Integrating Health and Mental Health: An Even Better R.O.I

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. At the Institute for Community Living (ICL), it should be renamed “May is Integrated Health Awareness Month.”

In New York State, more than 1 in 5 people experience symptoms of mental illness each year and 1 in 10 has symptoms severe enough that it affects their work, family and schooling.  Many have common physical health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, hypertension, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.  While these illnesses pose serious consequences to the general public, they affect people with psychiatric disabilities even more significantly. It has been reported that on average, these individuals die 25 years earlier than the general population who have the same health issues.

In New York State, 20 percent of Medicaid recipients are responsible for 75 percent of the costs.  These “high users” are mostly adults with mental illnesses with one or more serious medical disorders.  The cost of their medical care averages $30,000 annually, as compared with $2,500 for the general Medicaid population. Millions of dollars can be saved annually if every person with psychiatric, intellectual and/or developmental disorders had a primary care physician, integrated medical and mental health care, and was provided the support to lead a healthier lifestyle.

This is one of the forces that drives ICL’s leadership role in developing integrated health services.  ICL is a nonprofit human service safety-net organization that strives to create a safe and caring environment for over 10,000 people with histories of homelessness, mental illness, developmental disabilities, chronic health conditions and/or substance abuse, to help people take charge of their lives.

ICL continues to be on the forefront of integrating health and mental health care with initiatives that include:

  • Health Homes:  ICL is a lead agency for the Coordinated Behavioral Care network’s Health Home in Brooklyn for high users of Medicaid who have complex medical and/or behavioral care disorders. This program builds on ICL’s Pathways to Wellness program, a Department of Health-funded Chronic Illness Demonstration Project, in which ICL collaborated with a number of providers to establish comprehensive care management and linkage with medical homes for primary and preventive care for individuals who were high utilizers of medical and psychiatric services.
  • Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC):  ICL founded HealthCare Choices (HCC) to provide primary medical care, specialty medical services, dental, mental health and ancillary services to individuals with psychiatric, intellectual and/or developmental disabilities. This award-winning Level-3 Patient-Centered Medical Home in Brooklyn was one of only 10 new access points nationwide in 2011 to be designated as a Federally Qualified Health Center.
  • Integrated Services for Homeless Veterans:  the FQHC award opens significant health doors for vets not eligible for Veterans’ Administration (VA) services and homeless populations. HCC recently opened a second site, located adjacent to ICL’s Borden Avenue Veterans Residence in Queens, which offers two dental suites with dentists and support staff that have expertise in working with individuals with multiple needs, in addition to psychiatric and medical care. The fact that homeless people may not see a dentist for years or even decades underscores the critical needs that the FQHC addresses.
  • Diabetes Self-Management:  hundreds of consumers have enrolled in this ICL-developed program, which uses workbook-based learning, motivational interviewing and person-centered planning. Its goal of improving participants’ health clearly results in a reduction of future emergency room visits and hospitalizations: ultimately a substantial cost savings to the system.

Nonprofits like ICL help to improve the lives of millions of New Yorkers, as well as save the State significant spending, through the forward thinking yet intuitive provision of well integrated, preventative health and mental health initiatives. 

To learn more about ICL’s programs and initiatives, please visit

Contributed by Ambre Auzanneau of the Human Services Council.


About Human Services Council

The Human Services Council strengthens New York's nonprofit human services sector, ensuring all New Yorkers across diverse neighborhoods, cultures, and generations reach their full potential.
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