Collaboration is key to mental health care

Trish Foley, LMFT. Photo submitted

Eastern Plumas Health Care’s Behavioral Health Program is based on a collaborative care model, which utilizes a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner and a counselor who both work in collaboration with their patients’ primary care providers.

Trish Foley, a licensed marriage and family therapist, provides counseling services for those who are referred for, or request, counseling. Irene Wojek, a primary mental health nurse practitioner, joined the program in May. She provides medication management and counseling services.

EPHC’s program is based on that of the AIMS (Advancing Integrated Mental Health Solutions) Center out of Washington State, explained Foley. They pioneered the collaborative model EPHC has chosen to follow. The AIMS Center also provided consulting services for the first year of EPHC’s program, which ended recently. The Center helped EPHC set up its program and understand the daily operation of a collaborative care program.

According to Foley, EPHC’s behavioral health program focuses on mild to moderate patients who have anxiety and depression. Cognitive therapy, which is recommended by the AIMS Center for use in this model, is “supportive talk therapy,” explained Foley. “We do problem solving and strategic planning of daily living and life functioning … a lot of people come in and just need someone to talk to. My goal is to help them with whatever symptoms they’re having. It can be different for each person,” she said.

Foley feels like things are going very well now, especially since Wojek joined the staff a few weeks ago and can provide medication assessment or review for those patients who need it, combined with counseling services. “It was challenging at first, because there were changes in personnel, and we were sorting through how best to serve our community. Now, we have all the players, which is great — it helps people to feel more confident,” said Foley.

She added that a number of people, both in Quincy and Portola, have mentioned seeing the newspaper article in this paper a couple weeks ago that described the program. “It makes them feel good to be a part of that,” she said, “They’re very appreciative of the fact that we have these services now.”

The referral process is working very well now, too, said Foley. Patients are initially screened by their primary care provider, then they are referred for behavioral health services. Case Manager Tracy Studer goes through these referrals initially, and those who fit EPHC’s program are reviewed by the entire team and placed with either Foley or Wojek. Foley says there is now such a demand for counseling services, that she is seeing her patients regularly every other week.

They do manage to get patients in more often, however, if necessary. “But we’re not a crisis center,” Foley said, adding that patients who need urgent or more extensive services are referred to Plumas County Behavioral Health in Quincy. In addition, Studer has developed a resource packet for EPHC patients that list some local services, such as AlAnon, smoking cessation, yoga and more.

Foley’s background includes an undergraduate degree in psychology from U.C. Davis and a master’s degree from the University of San Francisco in counseling psychology. Initially, she worked at U.C. Davis conducting research trials with patients, but she realized she really wanted to spend her time “hearing people’s stories and helping them.”

A self described “small town girl” from Quincy, she moved first to Davis and then to Truckee, where she worked  at the Gene Upshaw Cancer Center at Tahoe Forest Hospital as a healing arts therapist. There, she helped recently diagnosed patients express their feelings by utilizing writing and art therapy techniques. She also worked in the hospital as a patient advocate.

After a recent move back to Quincy, EPHC’s Clinic Director Rhonda Grandi contacted Foley to let her know they were looking for a therapist. “It was synchronicity,” said Foley, “I love this area and the people here, and I was happy to join the team.”

She added that most of the time in a hospital setting, a degree in social work is required of therapists. So, the fact that this program integrates medical and behavioral health and welcomes a therapist with an LMFT degree feels tailor made for her.

“It’s a great opportunity for the community and for someone like me who comes back to the community. I love my job, because I meet wonderful people and I get to help them work on whatever is important to them,” said Foley, “It’s a feel good job, for sure.”