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(This article is part of Virginia Gay Hospital’s bi-annual publication, “Thrive” Fall/Winter 2017 issue and has been updated. An online version of the entire publication can be found at https://myvgh.org/thrive/)Illustration of a brain with the left side representing logic and the right side representing creativity

Adding a behavioral health specialist has been a priority since design of the new Virginia Gay Family Medicine clinic in Vinton began. Behavioral health and mental health are often used interchangeably, and there is debate among professionals in the field as to what the terms should mean.

In general, it is often thought that Behavioral Health involves issues including the lack of wellness caused from both mental and behavioral causes. Behavioral Health is generally considered to be more inclusive of a broad range of issues which might include depression, stress, grief and addiction. Traditionally, Mental Health has been more narrowly defined as focusing on neurological or biological issues a person is born with, like bipolar disorder, personality disorders, or schizophrenia. For the sake of this article we will use the term Behavioral Health to be inclusive of neurological, biological, social, and personal causes of mental and emotional distress.

Regardless of what we call it, our society often stigmatizes receiving help with mental or behavioral health issues, and that stigma keeps many people from seeking help. Making things worse, those who do seek help often find accessing care to be difficult and frustrating. There can be long delays between seeking help and being able to visit a trained specialist. Determining which kind of specialty to see is another complexity that is difficult for many patients.

Tom Stueck, an employee of Cargill, and his wife Cindi Stueck who works PRN in acute care were instrumental in securing a 2017 gift from Cargill of $50,000 to the Virginia Gay Hospital Health Care Foundation. The gift was made specifically for behavioral health services and will help Virginia Gay incorporate behavioral health into family medicine.

“We are taking steps to treat the whole person and find ways to reduce the physical health needs caused by behavioral health issues in our communities,” says Mike Riege, Virginia Gay Hospital Administrator.
“Our goal is not only to create a healthier population, but hopefully a happier one too.”

Mike Riege, Administrator
Virginia Gay Hospital

“We had a teenager spend four days in one of our emergency rooms because there just wasn’t any place else for them to go. As a community we’ve experienced deaths from suicide that might have been prevented if we were more open about behavioral health needs and if behavioral health services were more widely available. As a society we aren’t saving money by refusing to fund mental health services; we’re just shifting the ever-rising costs from one organization to another.”

Ron Tippett, Sheriff
Benton County Law Enforcement

Mental Health issues are very real and common throughout our community. One role of the sheriff’s office is to respond to court-ordered care or evaluation by providing transportation for persons in need. It isn’t uncommon for a deputy to spend eight hours in an emergency room with a person in need of care just waiting for a bed to open up. Beds are in such short supply in Iowa that it’s first-come, first-served with no guarantee even if a spot was available when we called. It is unfair to the person we’re trying to help and extremely costly for taxpayers.

Mary Jo Hainstock, Superintendent
Vinton-Shellsburg
Community School District

One of the changes I’ve seen during my career in education is the growing prevalence of behavioral health needs. When students struggle because of unmet behavioral health needs, it impacts their learning and success and can create difficulties throughout their entire lives. One of my greatest frustrations is how difficult it is for students and their families to access the behavioral health services they need.

Mike Riege, Virginia Gay Hospital Administrator
Ron Tippett, Sheriff Benton County Law Enforcement
Mary Jo Hainstock, Superintendent Vinton-Shellsburg Community School District