Integrated Ulster Seeks to Make All Health Agencies Welcoming and Accessible

Ulster County and Kingston’s healthcare needs are served by a patchwork of hundreds of organizations and thousands of practitioners and volunteers. The role of those organizations and practitioners has evolved over time to go beyond just directly treating patients, by attempting to address the social determinants of health: accessing healthy food, reducing housing insecurity, expanding recreation activities, collaborating with government, and affording health coverage.

Live Well Kingston is one of a number of initiatives that is seeking to tie it all together; not just for better health outcomes, but to more efficiently support those outcomes with government dollars. According to a 2016 report from former Ulster County Comptroller Elliot Auerbach, the top four non-profits that received payments from Ulster County in 2015 dealt with health in some way: Gateway Community Industries, Mental Health Association of Ulster County, Family of Woodstock, and Ulster-Green ARC.

Those institutions, along with others like HealthAlliance of the Hudson Valley, the Cornell Cooperative Extension, the Institute of Family Health, and many more, are part of a new, county-wide initiative called Integrated Ulster.

Integrated Ulster seeks to create a universal approach for service providers to provide care that is:

  • Welcoming
  • Accessible
  • Capable of being:
    • Person and Family-Centered
    • Recovery & Resiliency Oriented
    • Trauma Informed
    • Culturally Competent
    • Integrated

Katrina Huller Williams, LCSW-R, CASAC

The group is meeting regularly, and you can view their brochure here. We recently caught up with Katrina Huller Williams, LCSW-R, CASAC, who is serving as the group’s liaison, to learn more about how it all works.

1) What was the impetus to create Integrated Ulster?

Integrated Ulster came out of work being done by the Conference of Local Mental Hygiene Directors’ Regional Planning Consortium to create a Co-Occurring System of Care that addresses the needs of people with both mental health and substance use disorders. We launched the project in November 2018, and it quickly became a much broader, more comprehensive initiative. The goal of Integrated Ulster is to create a system of care that is welcoming and effective in addressing the complex needs of all people in Ulster County. While the Ulster County Department of Health and Mental Health is the lead, our partners include a variety of organizations: from behavioral and physical health to social services and beyond. Our aim is to ease access to help by improving collaboration, communication and capability so we can better respond to residents’ needs. This will lend itself to an increase in overall wellness for residents of Ulster County.

2) How often is Integrated Ulster going to meet?

The Integrated Ulster steering committee meets monthly. Additionally, two subcommittees focused on Training and Interagency Communication meet monthly to move forward the goals of the larger group.

3) Are there any immediate changes that local patients should expect?

The central value of the project is for our partners to be welcoming and accessible to the public. With more than 40 agencies involved, the community can expect improvement in this area immediately. One of the first concrete accomplishments of Integrated Ulster was to create a Google doc listing the contact information of our 100+ members. The purpose was two-fold: make communication easier and instill a sense of accountability; it is our expectation that if you are part of this initiative you are accessible and responsive to the needs of the group and the community. We expect residents will feel this difference when they interact with our partners.

The purpose was two-fold: make communication easier and instill a sense of accountability

4) Are there any long-term changes that local patients should expect?

Through improved communication and collaboration, we expect residents will find it’s much easier to get the information, help and services they need. We want people to experience “warm hold ons”, where they are not just given another number to call but supported through the process of finding the right fit. We’re in the process of implementing a bi-annual orientation for staff which will be focused on our guiding principles: things like trauma-informed, person-centered, and recovery-oriented care. We aim to improve service providers’ ability to be welcoming and capable to responding to the complex needs of the individuals and families they serve. We will achieve this by providing cross-training opportunities, so providers can learn about systems outside their own to better handle the needs of their residents and link them to appropriate services. Through this effort, residents can expect increasingly caring and effective services as the initiative grows.

5) Are there any metrics or trackable goals that have been identified already?

Yes. Our initial goals include the contact list and staff orientation previously mentioned, as well as a weekly e-newsletter provided by UCDMH which is underway. Additionally, we are working with our partners one-on-one to assist them in become more welcoming, accessible and complex capable. Because all our partners are different, it’s important not to take a “one size fits all” approach but rather support each organization in reaching their unique goals. One tool we’re using is the COMPASS-EZ, which measures how welcoming and complex capable your organization is and gives you a measurable way to track improvements.

6) What are the biggest common issues that the member organizations are facing?

The call for mental health, substance use and other behavioral health services has increased significantly, and universal needs like stable housing has been much harder to come by in our community. Because our partners are public service organizations (non-profits, social service agencies, schools, etc.) limited resources coupled with increased demand for services seems to be the biggest common issue facing our members.

The call for mental health, substance use and other behavioral health services has increased significantly, and universal needs like stable housing has been much harder to come by in our community

7) Are there any hopeful signs or anecdotes of how health care delivery or patient management is getting better or easier in the area?

There is growing recognition in the public service system that health care can be best provided through an integrated, holistic approach. The connection between things like mental health, trauma and addiction and the brain are well researched, and the culture is slowly but surely moving to respond to this growing knowledge. Additionally, the response to the ACE study (which links adverse experiences in childhood to negative health outcomes in adulthood) is moving our system toward a trauma-informed model nationwide. Our aim is to be responsive to this movement and support our providers on a local level around these important changes.

Want to be part of the conversation around health and wellness in Kingston? Check out our Focus Teams: Heal Well, Play Well, Age Well, Travel Well and Eat Well, and sign up to receive the Live Well Kingston newsletter!

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