Over 12 million Americans have seriously contemplated suicide. It impacts people of all ages and genders, and prevails in the top nine leading causes of death for most Americans even as young as 10 years old (via the Centers for Disease Control).
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and Fast Pace Health is sharing its dedicated and ongoing efforts to bring life-saving behavioral health care to rural populations.
Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) Karlee Stamey joined the Fast Pace Behavioral Health Services team in July 2022. Stamey began her healthcare career in the NICU field caring for newborns experiencing withdrawals from substances, such as opioids, that they were exposed to in the womb.
Stamey said she realized early in her practice that “this is not how it has to be” — meaning pinpointing addiction at the source in adults, in an effort to prevent addiction exposure to defenseless infants.
What Stamey discovered through her history of working with community mental health and substance abuse is that substance abuse is often rooted in a battle with behavioral health.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there is a “high prevalence” of people experiencing a substance use disorder that also meet the diagnostic criteria of mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depressive disorders, or psychotic illnesses.
Nikita Duke, DNP, PMHNP-BC, Fast Pace Health’s Director of Behavioral Health Services, says that Stamey brings “a wealth of knowledge” to Fast Pace’s ongoing effort to serve a broader patient base of those needing Behavioral Health services. Those patients, Duke and Stamey explain, face a number of obstacles that lead to an avoidance of treatment.
“I feel as if people often avoid getting treatment due to stigma, finances, and fear of medications,” Stamey says, adding that the stigma has lessened its grip on Behavioral Health patients since she joined the field in 2016, but that she still hears concerns particularly in rural communities.
Further, patients may fear being handed an unaffordable bill for seeking behavioral health treatment, and others carry insurance that may provide limited behavioral health benefits. Patients may also be medication naive — fearful of different drugs or uncertain after having bad experiences in the past.
Challenges understanding insurance benefits can be disheartening, Duke adds. Patients are sometimes asked to navigate a complex system and benefits are sometimes limited. For instance, some insurances allow for 14 days of treatment when covering addiction recovery services like inpatient therapy — but a patient’s needs don’t end when detox ends. That’s often when patients need help the most.
“You’re back in the world again, but you need more therapy. You need more groups, more time away from your pressures,” Duke says.
These are some of the driving reasons behind Fast Pace Health’s Behavioral Health Services expansion efforts — such as the continual work with the VA and other hospitals, and FPH’s acceptance of a broad insurance array, including Medicaid, Medicare, commercial insurance, and self-pay. As Fast Pace’s reach becomes broader and more versatile, more patients can access quality, affordable services and treatment paths.
“Who knows where the road will lead? We want to continue to grow and expand our services in outreach areas,” says Duke. “We want to continue to partner with other facilities and make a difference. … We want to continue to break down the barriers to behavioral health care.”
Stamey is licensed in Tennessee and Alabama, and is currently pursuing licensure in Indiana, which helps her make care available to patients via Telehealth in a wide variety of settings including at home and in the rural communities served by Fast Pace Health, where finding a behavioral health provider can be difficult, Duke explains.
With Telehealth, patients no longer have to race home from work or use their PTO to get care. Telehealth visits can happen on a patient’s own terms in the environment that is convenient and makes them most comfortable — and even if a patient isn’t tech savvy, staff at any Fast Pace Health location can assist the patient in connecting to a Behavioral Health provider via tablets on site.
While she doesn’t think there’s much lingering distrust over health care services received through Telehealth, Duke says, “the ease of Telehealth has really opened up doors for more people being willing to get Behavioral Health care.”
With National Suicide Awareness Month in mind, Stamey says her work with Fast Pace Health will include diligent suicide screenings and treating disorders that may lead to suicide.
“I feel that as long as we continue to ‘fight the good fight,’ that our patients will have better outcomes,” Stamey says.
Stamey is one of many providers recently brought on or soon to be brought on in FPH’s prolonged service expansion efforts. Another psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner will join the team in October.
“When I look for new providers, I look at personality,” Duke says. “I take that into consideration when I’m making hiring decisions. I’m looking for those who truly have a heart and compassion for behavioral health, who are going to welcome with open arms and not judge others. I look for people who have a passion, whether personally, family, or social.”
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