With wall-to-wall carpet, earth-tone colors and soft lighting, the new Axis Health System integrated health care facility is a far cry from the cold and sterile clinics of the past.
But more important to Axis CEO Bern Heath than the $3.5 million facility, located on Empire Street in Cortez, will be the innovative approach to health care it will house.
We are actually developing one of the first fully integrated health care systems in Colorado and I suspect in the country, Heath said. We are pulling together our existing behavior health mental health and substance abuse services with primary care services, wellness and healthy lifestyles so that theyre all integrated together.
While hospitals have had separate behavioral health and primary care wings under one roof before, the new Cortez facility is designed around bringing primary care and psychological care providers into the same space with the same patient.
Patients at the new facility will fill out a survey dubbed a toolbox on an electronic tablet that asks them questions about both physical and mental health issues. A patient seeking treatment for a sore throat may find out about other issues.
Hell come in. Hell fill out the toolbox. Maybe well see some signs of depression, Heath said, adding a patient will be screened for a wide variety of issues, including physical ailments, mental disorders and substance abuse issues.
That information will be entered into an innovative computer records system designed exclusively for the new facility.
A patient will then have their height, weight and vitals measured, and that information will be entered into the system. A physician or the patient can then access the information from electronic touchscreens located in treatment rooms throughout the facility.
The building is designed to facilitate interaction between the patient and an entire team of primary care providers as well as mental health care providers, Heath said, while still allowing for patient privacy.
Heath said the concept of integration came to him when he was at a family friends and observed two young ladies self-testing and dosing one for diabetes and one for bipolar disorder.
It hit me like a thunderbolt, he said. There isnt any difference here. Both have chronic illnesses, both are going to have to manage them throughout their lives. And we shouldnt be treating them differently.
The integration of the different schools of medicine might also make it easier for individuals to seek treatment at the new facility.
When this young lady with bipolar disorder was diagnosed, it was in the chaos of an emergency room. She was scared to death. She was put in shackles and transferred to a Front Range hospital out of reach of family members, Heath said.
He said half of patients seeking mental health care are at a crisis point and have never sought treatment before.
What it reflects is that stigma, he said, that sense of shame, or being defective that comes with mental illness that prevents people from seeking treatment.
Further, Heath said a study showed that from the time an individual develops a major mental illness to the time they seek treatment is an average of 9.7 years.
Ive been in the field my whole life, and it blew me away, he said. They were living with this illness, self-medicating with some drugs or alcohol. Living with that stigma its what we fight.
Individuals with major mental illnesses also have a shorter life expectancy, Heath said. Part of that is due to suicide, while another part of that is due to them not seeking care for physical ailments.
Our population hasnt historically been able to access health care well, he said. And thats one of the driving reasons for us to have said, We need to stop being a behavioral health center, and instead we need to be a whole person health care system.
Lastly, Heath hopes the system will facilitate better preventative care, allowing patients to get treatment before their ailment becomes severe and they need to seek help at an expensive facility such as an emergency room or psychiatric facility.
The treatment system is so unique that the traditional fee-for-service model of billing is incompatible. Heath is currently in the process of working with the state to allow a more global billing structure.
In the meantime, the new system will be taking Medicare, Medicaid and insured patients, but will not be taking on new cleints who are underinsured.
Complete detoxification, emergency room and surgery services will not be offered at the Cortez facility.
Heath acknowledged the difficulty in recruiting health care professionals in the Cortez area and said physician recruiting is currently off cycle because physicians are traditionally hired in the spring. He hopes to get by on 10 or 11 staff members and hire more staff in the spring.
Axis maintains a 24-hour crisis hotline at 565-7946. Heath said patients calling the number might first be required clearance at the emergency room for medical conditions or toxicology.
The facility is scheduled to open its doors to the public for an open house at 4 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 8.
Heath believes the unique facility and health care system will attract attention and visitors from many in the health care industry.
Cortez and Montezuma County will lead the country in health care in a lot of ways, Heath said. We will show people a model of health care that is not only better, but is less expensive. We think that were going to have a model here that the nation will want to learn from.
Reach Reid Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.