Brattleboro Retreat, Blue Cross Blue Shield create innovative health care partnership

Saturday March 30, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- As Vermont continues preparing for its move toward a single payer health care system, the Brattleboro Retreat is making sure that improved mental health treatment is included in the changes.

The Retreat and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont have developed a new partnership to integrate the treatment of medical and mental health and substance abuse care.

The new company, Vermont Collaborative Care, LLC, will begin serving Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont customers on July 1.

Peter Albert, Retreat senior vice president of government relations and managed service organization will serve as president of Vermont Collaborative Care.

Albert will remain at the Retreat while helping get VCC off the ground.

The Retreat and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont will share ownership and management of the new company.

Brattleboro Retreat President and CEO Rob Simpson said the new company will have mental health professionals available to doctors and clients in the Blue Cross system to better recognize and treat mental health and substance abuse issues before they decline and possibly manifest into serious medical emergencies.

"We have known for a long time that we need to treat the whole person; that the head and the body are part of one complete person," Simpson said. "Right now the system is not set up to provide that integrated care."

Simpson said VCC has the potential to drive down health care costs by treating Blue Cross customers with mental health disorders before they end up in the hospital or emergency rooms.

A client with severe panic attacks or anxiety disorder, for instance, might go to the doctor after experiencing shortness of breath or heart fibrillation.

Simpson said if that client receives mental health treatment first, the doctor visit could be avoided.

Albert said ongoing changes to the state and federal health care systems make it an opportune time to take on an innovative, and somewhat experimental initiative like VCC.

In addressing both better health outcomes and reducing costs, Albert says VCC aligns with Vermont's move toward an improved single payer health care system.

"There is a basic agreement that our health care system is not financially sustainable," Albert said. "We also know that mental health and substance abuse have an impact on medical costs. What this does is determine that you have to treat the whole person."

Albert said both organizations are going to be patient as the VCC develops its systems, and works toward an efficient and appropriate model to serve clients across the company.

Also, by bringing mental health care into the primary care conversation, Albert says VCC will help break down the stigma associated with mental health disorders, and encourage people to seek the help they need early on.

"This joint venture marks a significant advance for Vermont, with two established and respected not for profit Vermont organizations combining critical resources and expertise to serve Vermonters," Blue Cross Vermont Director of Provider Relations Cynthia Horan wrote in a letter to members. "The integration of medical and mental health/substance abuse care management is consistent with Vermont's health care reform initiatives."

VCC will have a membership of almost one-third of Vermont's population.

Kevin Goddard, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont vice president of external affairs and sales, said a collaboration like this has been talked about for a long time.

Health care reform is driving providers to look at new ways of delivering, and improving service, and Goddard said VCC will help Vermont move toward a more efficient and holistic health care system.

"This is consistent with the arc of health care reform," he said. "It's going to help us deliver better management and care and give people access to better services."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at, or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. You can follow him on Twitter @HowardReformer.


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