Many of us in our tri-state region struggle with anxiety and depression. Many also have chronic illnesses like diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. However, making changes to our lifestyles to stop smoking, eat better, and get more physically active can be very difficult.

Our healthcare team at Valley Health Systems wants to help our patients make these changes to their lifestyles, which is why we have added behavioral health consultants to several of our primary care clinics. These consultants, called BHCs, work in clinics alongside our family doctors, pediatricians, OB/GYNs, and nurse practitioners as part of our overall healthcare team.

BHCs are therapy providers specially trained to help patients and their families in making difficult lifestyle changes, so they can lead long healthy lives. BHCs can help with setting realistic goals, managing stress, anxiety or mood symptoms that many of us often have when we have a chronic disease and helping our patients overcome barriers to treatment, like finances, transportation, and childcare.

These BHCs often can see patients in the clinic the same day they see their doctor, reducing the cost of repeat office visits. Patients and families can either ask to see a BHC while they are in the office or schedule to meet with them on a different day.

Our doctors also may ask the BHC to meet with a patient during an office visit to introduce behavioral health services at Valley Health, ask about mood or anxiety symptoms, or discuss making lifestyle changes.

Appointments with a BHC are often brief visits, around 20-30 minutes long, and focused on the patient and doctor’s primary concerns. These concerns may include things like quitting smoking, being more physically active, managing weight, checking blood sugar, getting better sleep, or coping better with depression, stress, or anxiety.

Many of our BHCs also work with Valley Health’s psychiatric consultation clinic, helping our patients to receive psychiatric medications without waiting for months to see a psychiatrist face-to-face.  Although the goal is to manage most patients within this integrated care model, BHCs also can provide patients with referrals to more specialized care at Valley Health if needed, including outpatient therapy, diabetes education, or psychiatry.

Currently, Valley Health has behavioral health consultants working at our East Huntington, Hurricane, Milton, Coal Grove, Upper Kanawha, and Stepptown locations. We also take internal referrals from any of our Valley Health sites.

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Britni Ross, PsyD, is the lead IPC psychologist with Valley Health Systems and maintains her clinical practice at the network’s Hurricane health center. Dr. Ross completed her degree in clinical psychology at Marshall University and has been practicing at Valley Health since 2017. Her areas of interest in psychology include addiction, aging, chronic disease management, and primary care integration.