A federal spending bill passed by Congress on Friday includes funding to support an Oregon Health & Science University-led effort to coordinate available behavioral health services statewide.
The $800,000 federal appropriation is in addition to the $1.5 million the Oregon Legislature directed at the project in March.
State funding launched the effort by OHSU to work with health systems, community partners and Oregon Health Authority to build a real-time capacity visibility tool — developed in partnership with GE Healthcare and Blackbox Healthcare Solutions — called the Oregon Behavioral Health Coordination Center, or OBCC. An OHSU team will use the technology to provide clinicians a real-time view of occupancy, demand and available placement options for behavioral health patients — critical data in the face of limited inpatient resources and increasing need.
The federal appropriation provides needed capital investment to house and procure essential technology and equipment for the OBCC. Together, federal and state support will stand up the center, which will be reliant on OHSU and other partners to fund ongoing staffing and operations.
“We are working with unprecedented collaboration in order to better connect Oregon’s fragmented and under-resourced behavioral health services, improve access for Oregonians, and support providers at every level of care,” says Matthias Merkel, M.D., Ph.D., OHSU senior associate chief medical officer for capacity management and patient flow. “This federal funding will move the project forward, helping improve our collective understanding of Oregon’s behavioral health utilization and, most importantly, maximizing the impact of our infrastructure for Oregonians.”
The initial phase of the project includes providers in the Portland metro area, and Lane and Marion counties. The technology will enable the OBCC team to collect and share data about patients who are in emergency departments awaiting an inpatient bed; patients with current medical needs who will need behavioral health care; and patients who need community resources in order to be discharged from a health care setting.
Ultimately, the OBCC team will facilitate the placement of adult and pediatric behavioral health patients with data dashboards that are updated in real time, improving coordination and efficiency in getting patients the services they need. Data will also help health systems quantify demand for services in order to continually optimize available resources.
Coordinating care during crises
This effort is a continuation of OHSU’s leadership in improving coordination and information sharing across the institution and around the state.
In 2021, OHSU initiated the creation of the Oregon Medical Coordination Center, or OMCC, which works with OHA and other health systems in the Portland metro area to better serve Oregonians who need a higher level of critical care than is available in their communities. The center initially coordinated among Portland’s larger health systems, which provide the state’s highest level of critical care services, and it now coordinates across the entire state.
During the recent surge in hospitalizations among children, this coordination was invaluable: OMCC staff in real time coordinated the pediatric response among OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital and other pediatric intensive care units in the metro area, ensuring severely ill children were able to access care. As respiratory viruses caused an influx of adult patients at hospitals, OMCC expanded its efforts, and staff helped place critically ill adult patients and patients at small hospitals.
“Our OMCC team was an essential resource to clinicians all over the state as we faced a historic crisis in our hospitals,” Merkel said. “We demonstrated how coordinated information sharing can save lives, by, for example, saving a bed at OHSU for a critically ill patient coming in from a rural hospital.
“The OBCC will do the same for behavioral health patients,” he said. “It will ensure clinicians have a full picture of available resources as they work to help someone in mental health crisis. These coordination efforts are an important investment for the health of Oregonians.”
Similarly, during the pandemic, OHSU partnered with OHA, hospitals and health systems statewide to create a capacity tracking tool that provides real-time hospital census data to inform hospitals about inter-hospital transfer options for patients. The system centralized information-sharing efforts and improved coordination of critical care resources available across the state, as the number of critically ill patients, including those with COVID-19, surged.
The data are also used in hospitalization forecasts produced by Peter Graven, Ph.D., director of the OHSU Office of Advanced Analytics, which helped inform Oregon’s public health response to coronavirus since February 2020; the data are now doing the same for the surge of hospitalizations due to respiratory viruses this winter.