New Collaboration Integrates Addiction Treatment with Primary Care in Montrose and Fifth Ward

Through a nationwide initiative by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) aimed at integrating behavioral health services with primary health care, Montrose Counseling Center has been granted funds to launch a program called EMBody (an acronym for “empowering mind and body”). As proposed, EMBody will provide an array of fully covered services—assessment, psychotherapy, intensive outpatient chemical dependency treatment, psychiatric care, primary/preventive health care and case management—to uninsured and underserved GLBT, African American, and Latino/a adults who present both substance abuse and serious mental illnesses, primarily within the Montrose and Fifth Ward areas of Houston at Legacy Community Health Services clinics.

According to MCC Executive Director Ann J. Robison, PhD, “Persons struggling with chronic substance abuse issues on top of other serious mental health conditions have the greatest difficulty in getting the level of care they need. Homelessness, incarceration and death are the outcomes when left untreated.”

MCC and Legacy will take some innovative approaches to preventing those outcomes. First, EMBody will deploy outreach workers in the Montrose and Fifth Ward communities to identify and screen individuals on the street who are active in their addictions. Once the readiness to seek help has been determined, an outreach worker can walk participants through the EMBody admissions process. MCC has demonstrated success with this type of community-level approach in its work with GLBT seniors through the SPRY program, and in HIV prevention efforts engaging the help of peer role models in the Community PROMISE program.

Secondly, the partnership with Legacy will create a “one-stop shopping” model for participants to receive both behavioral health and primary health care at the same location. Robison says, “The crux of EMBody is the collocation of services. By bringing the best of what each agency does under one roof, we hope to prove what we have suspected all along that when we treat the whole person, our capacity to truly enhance a person’s quality of life increases substantially.”

With an anticipated $9 million in state funding cuts to the local county mental health system that once served as this population’s safety net, Robison asserts that “EMBody could not be launching at a better time.”