PAMF Reinvents Behavioral Health Care
It was four years ago, but for PAMF internist and pediatrician Meg Durbin, her colleagues on the Peninsula and local parents, it feels like yesterday. Within six months, four Palo Alto teens ended their own lives. Their deaths called attention to some alarming facts: one in five adolescents seeks psychotherapy and one in 12 is troubled enough to attempt suicide.
The four deaths in Palo Alto were far from the only such tragedies. Dr. Durbin believes that at least one other local girl might have been saved.
"The system let her down," Dr. Durbin says. "All her life she had seen the same physician at PAMF for her primary care and she trusted us, but insurers often separate the physical and mental health networks of care, so we were out of the loop." Traumatized by encounters with strangers, the girl committed suicide just before her high school graduation.
All of these deaths, so close together and so tragic, stunned the Peninsula community. Dr. Durbin, Daniel Becker, M.D., medical director of behavioral health services at Mills-Peninsula Health Services in Burlingame and San Mateo, and their colleagues decided it was time to go into action.
Supported by individuals, corporations and a Sutter Health matching grant of $400,000, PAMF and Mills- Peninsula Health Services are collaborating on a $3 million pilot program designed to save lives by identifying, treating and preventing behavioral disorders within primary care.
"When it comes to mental health, patients have been on their own," Dr. Durbin explains. "Through this new Adolescent Behavioral Health Program, we’re preparing physicians to manage and triage these issues. We’re also helping them work with therapists, teachers and parents. People want guidance and support, and it’s heartening how receptive they are."We’re starting with teens because of the urgency," Dr. Durbin adds. "For research purposes the pilot will last five years, but we’re seeing such success that we don’t want to wait before adding adults, screening and triaging them as well.
"This is an exciting initiative for PAMF and Mills-Peninsula, their first joint venture as partners in the Sutter Health Peninsula Coastal region. Ultimately, we hope to set a new standard nationwide for dealing with these issues." One early success story stands out for Dr. Durbin. She recently worked with a patient who had been hospitalized for depression and expelled from two schools. "I talked with him frequently and coordinated with his school counselor and therapist. Now he is in community college on a career path, he has friends and he’s smiling again. It’s so gratifying— and we’ve only just begun."
"Between us, PAMF and Mills-Peninsula serve 70,000 adolescents, and at least 10,000 of them have behavioral health issues. Now we are working together to make sure these adolescents don’t fall through the cracks."Daniel Becker, M.D., Medical Director, Behavioral Health Services, Mills-Peninsula Health Services and co-principal investigator with Meg Durbin, M.D. (pictured above) for the Adolescent Behavioral Health Program.