Stay healthy and safe is sage advice during this global pandemic, but for some citizens, the path to good health has been anything but easy. Each year, tens of thousands of individuals are released from prison to face a new reality: life after incarceration.
They begin the transition back into society, trying to navigate how to live, what to do to make ends meet and how to eat. Little if any thought is given to their health status, even though a large percentage of them grapple with physical and behavioral health issues.
Such is the case at Maricopa County’s Black Canyon Adult Probation Center in west Phoenix, where about 57% of the approximately 3,200 of individuals on probation have identified needs for mental health and substance-use treatment services, according to data from the Maricopa County Adult Probation Department.
When a health issue arises, an estimated 40% of them end up in the hospital Emergency Department or at an urgent care center.
These startling facts got those of us who work with justice-involved citizens motivated to empower them to think differently about their support system.
Maricopa County Adult Probation and Terros Health have a long and successful history of creating programs to help this historically underserved population successfully integrate back into society and reduce recidivism.
This includes extensive experience in expanding treatment, community education and prevention efforts through Terros Health’s Maverick House, a residential substance abuse treatment center, and the Bridging the Gap Offender Re-Entry program, which helps inmates re-engage in the community and reduce returns to prison.
Working together again, Terros Health and Maricopa County Adult Probation opened four co-located health centers in Phoenix, Glendale and Mesa, including a clinic inside of a probation office in the West Valley. The idea was to provide comprehensive, coordinated physical and behavioral health under one roof.
The program, believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, is funded by a five-year grant from the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System to incentivize eligible providers that meet specific benchmarks for integrating and coordinating physical and behavioral care.
Merging justice and health care in this way is a game-changer because it enables us to open new doors for these individuals, particularly when it comes to the treatment of substance-use disorder.
The centers are staffed by Terros Health nurse practitioners, registered nurse case managers and probation officers trained in working with justice-involved citizens. Patients also have access to counselors, a peer community health worker a project manager.
Before receiving services, each patient undergoes a comprehensive physical and mental health examination that includes BMI, heart function, diabetes, anxiety and depression screenings. Results from the screenings and an evaluation of the individual’s social determinants of health are used to inform a customized treatment plan.
We are already seeing positive results.
Since the program’s inception, 1,865 patients have come through our doors. And last month, the National Association of Counties honored the program for changing the culture for both justice staff and probationers.
But numbers and awards aside, this program is making a positive impact by removing barriers to care and enabling these individuals to take control of their health. In doing so, they are making our community an even better place to live.
Ray Young is a licensed professional counselor and integrated site director with oversight of the Justice Clinics at Terros Health, which provides whole-person care and has specialized in mental health and substance-abuse treatment for more than 50 years.