Great Minds Conference Educates and Inspires

A view of Mount Rainier across the Puget Sound.

On November 7-8, 2018, Great Minds at Work hosted a Work Behavioral Health Supported Employment conference in Tacoma, WA. The event was a collaborative effort between the Health Care Authority- Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery, University of Washington Department of Rehabilitation Medicine and the SAMHSA BEST project.

The goal of the conference was to promote the Supported Employment Medicaid benefit and bring together a diverse group of presenters to share information about recovery supports, promising programs, and policies that advance best practices.  This conference was a huge success, with over 236 Attendees and topics covered included:

  • Customized employment (The untapped job market)
  • Job Development for individuals with justice involvement
  • Youth Career planning
  • How working effects benefits and work incentives
  • Peer role in employment and recovery
  • Job Seekers and Homelessness
  • Documenting medical necessity
  • Tribal VR and IPS (Tribal VR Grants) Culture-specific
  • Social determents of health
  • Opportunity for Choice (assessment, career explorations, and non-bias)
  • Staff recruitment, training, and retention tools

The conference provided a unique venue for the exchange of ideas and information across all sectors working with behavioral health conditions. Some of the ideas attendees explored included financing employment services, educating the workforce on placement and support services, expanding FCS services for Washington residents who have most immediate needs, cross-systems collaboration among employers, housing providers, workforce development and culture change to include employment as a recovery-orientated outcome.

Conference organizers designed the conference to educate and inspire system partners, agency leaders and staff, clinicians, employment specialists, peer counselors and individuals with lived behavioral health experience on the role employment plays in the recovery process and address how long-term unemployment contributes to poor physical and behavioral health outcomes.

Stay tuned for information about the 2019 conference.

Supported Employment is a now a Medicaid Health Benefit in Washington State

Great Minds at Work focuses on educating employers and connecting them with resources to be able to successfully work with people who may have treated mental health issues or substance abuse disorders (together, behavioral health challenges). In support of the Becoming Employed Starts Today (BEST) Mental Health Transformation Grant, Great Minds at Work helps combat the stigma of mental health and substance abuse issues in the workplace.

In order for employers to successfully hire and retain workers, organizations that are licensed to help people with behavioral health challenges provide the expert support needed in these employment relationships. Traditionally, these organizations have been funded through a variety of sources, but are now being recognized as foundational services in the field of health care.

Foundational Community Supports (FCS) is Initiative 3 of Washington State’s 5 year Medicaid Transformation, and creates 2 new benefits that provide access to supportive housing and supported employment services for Medicaid populations with the greatest and most immediate needs. The Foundational Community Supports Program is overseen by the Health Care Authority and administered through a Third Party Administrator (TPA), Amerigroup.  Amerigroup is responsible for building a network of both traditional and social service providers who help eligible Medicaid recipients obtain and maintain housing and employment. This innovative project is focused on finding sustainable ways of transforming the healthcare system to save money and provide better health outcomes among the populations served. By integrating services that are not traditionally provided by the health care system, including supported housing and employment, the Health Care Authority hopes to create a system that truly addresses the health of its population rather than just medical symptoms.

The long-term goal is to have these services as a continued benefit that is incorporated into Washington’s general Medicaid program. That way, all Washingtonians who are eligible for Medicaid will have access to these benefits.

Employers who want to participate in supported employment relationships should connect with one of Amerigroup’s contracted providers. These providers can vary by location, and include Behavioral Health Organizations, long-term care agencies, social service agencies, and even counties. The full provider network list can be found in the Washington Foundational Community Supports Provider Directory.

Mental Health Disorders At Work

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one of every five American adults experiences mental illness, the most common are anxiety disorders and major depression.

Licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Stephen Langer, director of Northwest Brief Therapy Training Center in Olympia Washington, explains that anxiety and depression are so prevalent that experts often refer to them ‘the common cold of mental disorders.’ What are these mental health issues exactly?

Again, according to NAMI, experts define anxiety disorders as a group of related conditions characterized by “persistent, excessive fear or worry in situations that are not threatening.” Some common anxiety disorders include Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Social Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, and various Phobias.

With approximately 42 million adults or 18.1 percent of the U.S. population experiencing an anxiety disorder, that covers a considerable portion of the American workforce. Dr. Langer gives a clear example of the prevalence of anxiety diagnoses: “If you have an anxiety disorder and you are in an elevator with 10 people, chances are high that there is at least one other person on that elevator who also has an anxiety diagnosis.”

Depressive disorder, also known as ‘major depression’ or simply ‘depression,’ is experienced by an estimated 16 million adults in the U.S. or 6.9 percent of the population. Depression often presents differently for different people, but can commonly affect a person’s sleep, appetite, concentration, energy and activity levels. Depression can also result in feeling hopeless or guilty, experiencing physical pain, and even having suicidal thoughts.

The good news is that anxiety disorders and depression are both very responsive to treatment. Professionals can treat both anxiety and depression with psychotherapy, medication, and complementary health approaches including relaxation techniques, meditation, and nutrition. Individuals suffering from depression also find some relief with exercise, brain stimulation therapies, and light therapy.

“With proper treatment, both anxiety disorders and major depression don’t have to affect how people work,” Dr. Langer explains. What this means for our workplaces, is that it is very likely that several of the people we work may have anxiety or depression, and we’ll never know that they do.

Dr. Langer advises employers that, “the important thing to remember is to hire people based on their capacity for doing good work, and not on the basis of their diagnosis.”

LEARN MORE: There are some relatively easy accommodations employers can make to help people with anxiety/depression be successful in the workplace.
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