ASU survey pinpoints Arizona behavioral health care areas in need


Nicholas Gerbis

Behavioral health care staff and clients fight an uphill battle across the state, facing housing and prevention shortfalls, quality and customer service problems, and regional shortages in crisis and transportation services. Such are the conclusions of a report released Wednesday by the Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy at Arizona State University.The report, “Behavioral Health Care in Arizona 2015,” summarizes an anonymous statewide survey conducted online from June–July 2015 among behavioral health providers, agencies, recipients, family members and advocates. It is available on the center’s website here:

As the Affordable Care Act drives the once-separate spheres of primary care and behavioral health care toward integration, and as the state’s Medicaid agency, the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), prepares to absorb the Division of Behavioral Health Service’s functions, the time is ripe for taking stock of the state’s attitudes and aptitudes.

“This is a period of extraordinary change in the behavioral health care landscape, both statewide and nationwide,” says CABHP director Michael Shafer. “But it’s also a time to assess ongoing needs and issues. Performing such evaluations is a major part of our work at the center, along with providing workforce training in skills relevant to behavioral health and substance abuse recovery.”

The ACA lists mental health and substance use disorder services among its 10 elements of essential health benefits. It also expands on the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, which mandates that health insurers provide equivalent benefits to mental health and substance use services as they do to medical care.

Survey respondents identified problems in all 11 of the survey’s listed service areas, but singled out housing, prevention, crisis and transportation services in particular. They also called for developing statewide standards, and aligning the requirements for acute and behavioral health care. Respondents also recommended tying providers’ contracting and reimbursements to outcomes, and developing service arrays that meet the needs of children and adolescents.

The report informed discussions at the center’s 2015 Arizona Behavioral Health Town Hall, part of its 16th-annual Summer Institute. The Town Hall provides a platform for representatives from key institutions to discuss new and emerging state and federal policies. The Summer Institute is a four-day educational conference addressing contemporary issues in behavioral health practice and policy.