Newswise — BROOKLYN, NY, FEBRUARY 28, 2018 — In an effort to improve health outcomes for patients with serious mental illness (SMI), practitioners at the Family Health Centers at NYU Langone have developed an innovative model that adds primary care assessments in the behavioral health setting. 

“We are redesigning the way patients experience care and integrating a multidisciplinary team of providers that includes primary care physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, nurse practitioners, and others,” says Jon Marrelli, PsyD, program manager, behavioral health and primary care integration. “We are helping patients improve their overall health by inspiring them to be knowledgeable and fully engaged in their own care.” 

“For years, mental illness was treated as if the head were not connected to the body and its medical conditions. Providing for the needs of the whole patient is the prudent approach,” says Larry K. McReynolds, executive director of Family Health Centers at NYU Langone. 

Patients with SMI often suffer at much higher rates from high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and elevated blood sugar levels, as well as side effects from smoking and substance abuse. These health indicators, collectively known as metabolic syndrome, can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.  As a result, life expectancy for those suffering from SMI is up to 20 years shorter than the general population. 

“A variety of risk factors and adverse effects, including a sedentary lifestyle, low self-confidence, and inattention to personal health, contribute to a shorter life expectancy,” adds Marrelli. 

In 2014, the Family Health Centers at NYU Langone (FHC) received a four-year, $1.7 million grant from the Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to develop a primary care assessment model in a behavioral health setting. FHC cares for approximately 3,000 patients each year who experience serious mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. 

How it Works 

The program, called STIR (Sunset Terrace Integration and Recovery), requires a 12-month commitment and encourages patients to increase their health literacy, take an active role in their care, and get to know their team of providers. Patients complete a questionnaire to screen for potential health conditions, smoking, and other risk factors, and receive a variety of health assessments. They are enrolled in educational classes that cover healthy living and eating, tobacco use, and managing the emotional consequences of depression, anxiety, panic, and other conditions. A certified tobacco specialist helps patients reduce or quit smoking while a navigator helps them overcome potential barriers to care. 

Marrelli says that the 213 patients who have completed the program had statistically significant improvements: decreases in blood pressure, improved cholesterol levels, and decreases in waist circumference, a measure of obesity. One particular success story was an individual who lost 40 pounds, accompanied by significant decreases in total cholesterol and decreased triglycerides. The patient credits the team approach to health monitoring and the educational programming where he learned to manage his condition. 

“Patients are so proud of what they have accomplished in improving their health that many ask to extend their participation in the program,” says Marrelli. 

For more information about the Family Health Centers at NYU Langone STIR program please call 718-431-2637.