May 28, 2014
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 report 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.