Evaluation of the SAMHSA Primary and Behavioral Health Care Integration (PBHCI) Grant Program

Final Report

by Deborah M. Scharf, Nicole K. Eberhart, Nicole Schmidt Hackbarth, Marcela Horvitz-Lennon, Robin L. Beckman, Bing Han, Susan L. Lovejoy, Harold Alan Pincus, M. Audrey Burnam

This Article

RAND Health Quarterly, 2014; 4(3):6


Excess morbidity and mortality in persons with serious mental illness is a public health crisis. Numerous factors contribute to this health disparity, including illness and treatment-related factors, socioeconomic and lifestyle–related factors, and limited access to and poor quality of general medical care. Primary and Behavioral Health Care Integration (PBHCI), one of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's service grant programs, is intended to improve the overall wellness and physical health status of people with serious mental illness, including individuals with co–occurring substance use disorders, by making available an array of coordinated primary care services in community mental health and other community–based behavioral health settings where the population already receives care. This article describes the results of a RAND Corporation evaluation of the PBHCI grants program. The evaluation was designed to understand PBHCI implementation strategies and processes, whether the program leads to improvements in outcomes, and which program models and/or model features lead to better program processes and consumer outcomes. Results of the evaluation showed that PBHCI grantee programs were diverse, varying in their structures, procedures, and the extent to which primary and behavioral health care was integrated at the program level. Overall, PBHCI programs also served many consumers with high rates of physical health care needs, although total program enrollment was lower than expected. The results of a small, comparative effectiveness study showed that consumers served at PBHCI clinics (compared to those served at matched control clinics) showed improvements on some (e.g., markers of dyslipidemia, hypertension, diabetes) but not all of the physical health indicators studied (e.g., smoking, weight). Finally, we found that program features, such as clinic hours, regular staff meetings, and the degree of service integration, increased consumer access to integrated care, but that access to integrated care was not directly associated with improvements in physical health. Implications of the study results for programs and the broader field, plus options for future PBHCI–related research are discussed.

For more information, see RAND RR-546-DHHS at https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR546.html

Full Text

This article describes the RAND Corporation's evaluation of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMHSA's) Primary and Behavioral Health Care Integration (PBHCI) grants program. The PBHCI grants were designed to improve the overall wellness and physical health status of people with serious mental illness and/or co-occurring substance use disorders by supporting the integration of primary care and preventive physical health services into community behavioral health centers where individuals already receive care. This evaluation provides information about the grantees' implementation of PBHCI, consumer outcomes, and PBHCI program features associated with consumer-level processes and outcomes of care. It also includes implications for programs and the broader field, plus suggestions for future evaluation that may strengthen ongoing and future implementation of PBHCI.


Excess morbidity and mortality in persons with serious mental illness (SMI) is a public health crisis. Compared with people without mental illness, individuals with SMI (e.g., schizophrenia, other psychoses, bipolar disorder, and severe depression) have higher rates of chronic medical conditions, including hypertension, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and HIV/AIDS; higher frequency of multiple general medical conditions; and more than twice the rate of premature death resulting from these conditions (Kelly, Boggs, and Conley, 2007; Mauer, 2006; Parks et al., 2006; Sokal et al., 2004; Saha, Chant, and McGrath, 2007; Laursen et al., 2013).

Numerous factors contribute to the excess burden of general medical conditions among persons with SMI, including low levels of self-care, medication side effects, substance abuse comorbidity, unhealthy lifestyles, and socioeconomic disadvantage (Burnam and Watkins, 2006; CDC, 2012; Druss, 2007). The organizational and financial separation of the behavioral and general health care sectors contributes to disparities in access to and the quality of general medical care for people with SMI (Alakeson, Frank, and Katz, 2010; Bao, Casalino, and Pincus, 2013; Druss, 2007; Horvitz-Lennon, Kilbourne, and Pincus, 2006).

SAMHSA's PBHCI service grant program is intended to improve the health status among adults with SMI and/or co-occurring substance use disorders by making available an array of coordinated primary care services in community mental health centers and other community-based behavioral health settings. The PBHCI grantees evaluated in this report received $500,000 per year to coordinate access to primary care and/or services for which there was no funding source, including four core (required) program features:

  1. screening/referral for needed physical health prevention and treatment
  2. developing a registry/tracking system for physical health needs/outcomes
  3. care management
  4. prevention and wellness support services.

Grantees could also implement six optional program features (same-day physical and behavioral health visits; colocated, routine primary care services; a supervising primary care physician; an embedded nurse care manager; evidence-based practices for preventive care; and wellness programs), infrastructure development, and performance measurement activities.

In 2009–2010, RAND designed the PBHCI evaluation around a structure-process-outcomes framework (Donabedian, 1966, 1980). The evaluation had three evaluation components, each designed to answer one of three research questions:

  • Research Question 1 (Process Evaluation): Is it possible to integrate the services provided by primary care providers and community-based behavioral health agencies (i.e., what are the different structural and clinical approaches to integration being implemented)?
  • Research Question 2 (Outcomes Evaluation): Does the integration of primary and behavioral health care lead to improvements in the mental and physical health of the population with serious mental illness and/or substance use disorders served by these models?
  • Research Question 3 (Model Features Evaluation): Which models and/or model features of integrated primary and behavioral health care lead to better mental and physical health outcomes?

RAND then won a separate three-year contract to conduct this evaluation work (2010–2013). The results of this PBHCI evaluation are described below.


Research Question 1 (Process Evaluation)

To answer this descriptive, process-oriented question, we measured the extent to which key integration features and strategies were present at each grantee site (program- and staff-level analyses) and the degree to which individuals with SMI received appropriate integrated services (consumer-level analysis). Data showed that PBHCI programs had multidisciplinary teams with different staff mixes, and that they had different infrastructures and offered different packages of services. Programs also varied in the extent to which their structures and procedures reflected integrated care, with programs offering variable levels of colocated services, structures, and systems shared by primary and behavioral health care providers, integrated practices, and clinic cultures.

PBHCI programs also served a diverse population of consumers with high rates of need for integrated primary and behavioral health care services. Once enrolled in PBHCI, most consumers had some primary and behavioral health care contact during their first year in the program, and more than half accessed a basic package of integrated services, including screening or treatment planning, primary care, and case management; consumers were less likely to have accessed substance abuse–related services and wellness services targeting smoking and weight. Improving consumer access to the full array of PBHCI services, particularly among consumers with identified physical health needs, could be a target for future improvements to PBHCI.

Research Question 2 (Outcomes Evaluation)

We conducted a small, comparative effectiveness study consisting of three matched PBHCI and control clinic pairs. Results of a difference-in-difference analysis showed that, relative to consumers receiving services at control clinics, PBHCI consumers showed improvements in some (diastolic blood pressure, total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and fasting plasma glucose) but not all (systolic blood pressure, body mass index, HDL cholesterol, hemoglobin A1c, triglycerides, self-reported smoking) of the physical health indicators examined. Compared with consumers served at control sites, consumers served through PBHCI showed no benefit in terms of indicators of behavioral health.

Research Question 3 (Model Features Evaluation)

Instead of implementing different integrated care models in their entirety (e.g., Cherokee model, Chronic Care Model), our initial work showed that many programs implemented “bits and pieces” or combinations of several integration models (Scharf et al., 2013). As such, our approach to Research Question 3 focused on model features whose presence or absence could be reliably assessed. To answer Research Question 3, we used the full sample of 56 grantee data to first identify program-level predictors of consumer access to primary care providers and packages of integrated care. Then we used data from the three intervention sites included in the comparative effectiveness evaluation (Research Question 1) to test the relationship between consumer access to primary, integrated care and consumer physical health outcomes. Overall, results showed that several program features had an effect on consumer access to integrated care (e.g., the number of days a primary care clinic was open per week, regularly scheduled integrated staff meetings, and other aspects of program-level integration increased access; rural location decreased access), but consumer access to primary care and integrated care was not clearly associated with physical health outcomes.


PBHCI programs were successful in several ways, such as building integrated, multidisciplinary teams that offer an array of integrated primary, behavioral health, and wellness services, and across PBHCI grantee programs, these services were provided to a diverse clientele with high rates of need for integrated care. PBHCI programs also experienced several challenges, including lower-than-expected rates of consumer enrollment, financial sustainability, intra-team communication, and creating an integrated clinic culture. These programs also experienced challenges related to implementing wellness programs and improving consumer smoking and weight outcomes. Ongoing and future cohorts of grantees could consider several options to improve program implementation, such as maximizing data-driven, continuous quality improvement; monitoring implementation fidelity to evidence-based wellness programs; and investing in strategies that improve consumer access to integrated services, among others. Stakeholders in the field of integrated care could benefit from consensus around program performance expectations and the establishment of national quality indicators for integrated care accountability and core performance monitoring requirements. Finally, technical assistance providers could consider continuing dissemination of emerging best care practices for adults with SMI and supporting grantees navigating concurrent health care reforms. Future evaluations, such as an evaluation of PBHCI utilization and costs, strategies to improve sustainability, and a prospective trial of alternative models of integrated care could help SAMHSA and grantees demonstrate the value of their PBHCI work.


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The research described in this article was sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services and was produced within RAND Health, a division of the RAND Corporation.

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