An agency that serves thousands of low-income Summit County residents is making efforts to treat their bodies as well as their brains.
Portage Path Behavioral Health this month is launching Integrated Care Clinics inside four primary-care offices run by Akron General Medical Center and AxessPointe Community Health Center, formerly known as Akron Community Health Resources.
Portage Path is leasing the space and staffing the satellite locations with its advanced practice nurses and social workers to provide mental health services on site.
The agency also received a $75,000 grant from the Margaret Clark Morgan Foundation to open a primary-care office inside Portage Path’s main location in downtown Akron. AxessPointe, a sliding-scale health practice, will run the medical practice when it opens later this year.
The deals are part of Portage Path’s plan to work with other health-care providers throughout the community to develop programs that coordinate mental and physical health services for patients, said James A. Crouse, the agency’s vice president of marketing.
“This is going to make access so much easier for people,” he said.
Studies have shown patients who are chronically mentally ill can have their life spans shortened as much as 25 to 30 years, largely because preventable or chronic illnesses aren’t well managed.
Transportation, lack of financial resources and other barriers can make it challenging for Portage Path’s patients to seek medical care, he said.
According to a survey of Portage Path patients, 21 percent use hospital emergency rooms rather than primary-care offices for medical services.
Slightly more than half (51 percent) smoke, and one in five have high blood pressure.
The nonprofit business provides outpatient counseling and psychiatric services, medication management, group programs, partial hospitalization, psychiatric emergency care and a free 24-hour crisis hotline.
The agency, with about 190 employees, has three outpatient facilities in downtown Akron, Barberton and Cuyahoga Falls and a 24-hour psychiatric emergency services center in Akron.
About $7.8 million of Portage Path’s $11.1 million annual budget comes from tax support through the Summit County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board.
Each year, Portage Path serves roughly 9,000 patients, with about 76 percent qualifying for sliding-scale payments for services. Nearly 70 percent earn less than $10,000 per year.
For most Summit County residents with serious mental illnesses, “Portage Path is the front door for mental health,” Crouse said.
The launch of its new clinics follows a partnership forged this year with Akron General for joint recruitment and employment of psychiatrists and other behavioral health experts.
Under that agreement, Dr. Jeffrey L. Moore, chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Services at Akron General, is serving as Portage Path’s medical director. In that role, Moore oversees medical operations for the community mental health center.
Three of Portage Path’s new satellite clinics will be located inside Akron General practices — the Internal Medicine Center and Psychiatry Department in the Ambulatory Care Clinic on the main campus and the Women’s Health Clinic inside the Akron General Community Health Center on South Broadway Avenue.
A fourth clinic will open inside the new Barberton location of AxessPointe, which cares primarily for uninsured residents and low-income patients covered by Medicaid.
Patients who are referred for mental health services by their primary-care doctors often are reluctant to go to a behavioral health center for treatments, Moore said.
“Patients refuse to go because of the stigma,” he said.
But by putting mental health services within the primary-care setting, “I think it will help,” he said.
For more information about Portage Path Behavioral Health and the new integrated clinics, call 330-253-3100 or visit www.portagepath.org.
Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/abjcherylpowell.