By Alexandra Becker
Each May, hospitals and healthcare organizations take time to highlight the importance of mental and psychiatric health through recognizing Mental Health Awareness Month. The goal is to promote resources and services available to anyone affected by psychiatric or mental health issues while also reducing the stigma associated with these illnesses.
Memorial Hermann’s Behavioral Health Teams are dedicated to caring for patients and members of the community who may be in need of mental or psychiatric support through a multilayered approach across several teams. Their goal is to treat mental illness just like any other—and to ensure that every member of the community has access to the care they need.
“We are all working together to change the stigma of mental health and to shine a light on how important it is to take care of yourself mentally and emotionally as well,” said Danielle Richardson, LCSW, who works on the psychiatric response team at Memorial Hermann. “Finances, issues in relationships, isolation, and stress can all be triggers. We see patients who have medical issues that stem into mental health issues. Getting more people to understand that anyone of any background can be affected is important.”
Memorial Hermann’s Behavioral Health Services include four focus areas—a psychiatric response team, mental health crisis clinics, psychiatric case management services, and integrated care efforts—which, together, provide comprehensive care throughout Greater Houston.
Psychiatric Response Team
The psychiatric response team provides services across all Memorial Hermann hospitals to patients in need of mental health or psychiatric support. Often, these specialists are pulled into a patient’s care for immediate and urgent issues.
“We are often called in to asses patients to see if they meet certain criteria,” explained Sonya Carson, Ed.D, LCSW, a member of the psychiatric response team. “We assess their level of care, look at whether they may need inpatient hospitalization, more stabilization, help with medication, or whether they may just need to be monitored more closely.”
Carson said that her team often helps patients who have come in for health issues unrelated to psychiatric care, but who exhibit symptoms that suggest they might benefit from it.
“This is our expertise, so we can quickly help identify exactly what a patient needs when it comes to behavioral health services to help supplement the care they are already receiving,” Carson explained.
Mental Health Crisis Clinics
Memorial Hermann also has three mental health crisis clinics spread throughout Greater Houston for anyone in need of immediate services. These outpatient providers can assist individuals experiencing a mental health crisis and can serve as a resource for patients who are unable to follow up with other providers for standard mental health issues, including medication refills. Through these clinics, individuals can meet with a psychiatrist on the day a need has been identified, rather than waiting months for an open appointment.
“These clinics help with case management and prescriptions to help fill a gap when there is an immediate need,” explained Richardson.
In addition to providing treatment, the multidisciplinary team of psychiatrists, mental health nurse practitioners, physician assistants, social workers and medical assistants who staff these clinics also help connect patients with more permanent medical and behavioral health homes.
Psychiatric Response Case Management
Memorial Hermann’s psychiatric response case management team extends services beyond acute care, with a focus on connecting patients to resources that ultimately support behavioral health.
“We often receive referrals from the psychiatric response team. If they are seeing someone who may come in repeatedly, or if they think a family could use help getting connected to resources, they’ll refer that patient to us,” said Tiffany Gaston, LMSW. “A patient will come into our care and we work with them, often for six to nine months, to help them get connected to different services in the community.”
Gaston explained that her team focuses on four different areas, all of which ultimately support mental health and wellbeing.
“First, we make sure our patients can secure reliable housing,” Gaston said. “We then connect them with a primary care provider, a psychiatrist, and help secure employment.”
Gaston said that under these umbrellas, there are numerous specialized needs her team addresses, including food insecurity, a focus on antepartum and postpartum women, as well as families affected by natural disasters, including hurricanes, Texas’ recent winter storm, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re trying to meet those basic needs that sometimes bring patients into the hospital repeatedly,” Gaston said. “Our goal is to address that in an outpatient setting and connect them with stable resources.”
Memorial Hermann also offers integrated care services embedded in nine outpatient practice sites across Greater Houston. Serving both adult and pediatric patients, with a special focus on the underinsured population, these services supplement physical health care delivery to create a personalized patient experience inside an already established medical home.
“This type of care isn’t acute in the way our psychiatric response team or our crisis clinics are; it falls more under the umbrella of case management,” said Kacie LeGaye, LCSW, LCDC, who works as a care manager with the team. “The idea behind our integrated care services is that these patients are already seeing a doctor for a separate issue or a checkup, and if the doctor notices a need, patients can get psychiatric care right in the same location and through the same practice, rather than making a separate appointment somewhere else.”
LeGaye said that by embedding these services within clinics, patients are more likely to address problems that are sometimes neglected, such as suspected postpartum depression or therapy related to pregnancy loss.
“You don’t have to call and make an appointment, they’ll often just walk down the hallway and have a conversation with someone, which is beneficial for anyone who may be hesitant about accessing these types of services,” she explained. “We want to focus on the whole picture and all the ways we can help. It’s not always just a clinical issue.”
That “big picture” approach is what ultimately drives Memorial Hermann’s multilayered Behavioral Health efforts.
“Every individual—every patient—needs personalized care, and that often comes in different forms,” added Carson. “That’s why it’s so important to have different types of services.”
The main message?
“We’re here to help,” Carson added. “If you are feeling like you need any kind of mental health support, don’t hesitate. We are here for everyone.”