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Chen research identifies benefits of local mental health services

American Journal of Preventive Medicine article reports racial and ethnic minorities experience a disproportionate burden of co-existing mental, physical conditions

More than half of preventable hospitalizations in Maryland are for people with co-existing mental health and chronic physical conditions. A new study by Faculty Associate Jie Chen, Associate Professor of Health Services Administration, and colleagues suggests that low-cost mental health programs provided by local health departments can play a critical role in preventing these costly and unnecessary hospitalizations.

“Unfortunately, we see a lot of people with chronic conditions like asthma, heart disease, and diabetes who are also suffering from a mental health issue,” says Dr. Chen, lead author of the study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. “Racial and ethnic minorities experience a disproportionate burden of these co-existing conditions, largely due to a lack of healthcare access and the social stigma associated with mental illness. When local health departments provide mental health preventive care, we see significantly lower rates of inpatient hospital admissions for people with chronic physical conditions and coexisting mental disorders such as substance abuse, depression and anxiety.”

The data analysis of Dr. Chen and colleagues also found that African Americans were less likely than whites to live in the counties with the local health departments that were actively providing mental health preventive care. “If African American populations receive mental health services from their local health department, it could yield a nine percent reduction in preventable hospitalizations for this group,” Dr. Chen says.

Dr. Chen’s research team analyzed multiple data sets from 2012-2013, including the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project State Inpatient Databases of the State of Maryland, the National Association of County and City Health Officials Profiles Survey, the American Hospital Directory, the Area Health Resource File, and U.S. Census data (this study was supported by NIMH, R21MH106813-01, Chen, PI). She acknowledges that prevention and education efforts by Maryland’s 24 county health departments, implemented since that time, may have helped to further reduce preventable hospitalizations.

With recently secured funding from the National Institutes of Health (1R01MD011523-01, Chen, PI), Dr. Chen developed the Project System-level Multidisciplinary Integration for popuLation health and Equity (SMILE) which will expand this study to examine national data.

See the article in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine