Interprofessional Collaboration a Major Theme of Inaugural PiP Forum Focused on ACA

January 16, 2015 / By: Katharine Hill
Policy in Practice Forum: The Accountable Care Act and its Effects on Clinical Social Work Practice

As printed in the Winter 2015 Social Work Perspectives newsletter

The first annual Policy in Practice (PiP) Forum was held October 10 at the University of St. Thomas. The purpose of these forums is to create a space where social work students, professionals, and alumni can come together to learn more about the interactions of “on-the-ground” professional social work practice and public policy. Thus, social workers will be better able to advocate for their clients and for their profession as they become better informed on these interactions.

The first forum, “The Affordable Care Act (ACA): Impacts on Clinical Social Work Practice,” featured a distinguished panel of four experts in the field. The speakers were drawn from a number of different fields – social work, psychiatry, public health, advocacy, and management – emphasizing the broad reaches of the legislation, and the interprofessional nature of the response. All of the speakers specifically mentioned the ACA’s emphasis on interprofessional responses to mental health, due to its call for community-based and holistic responses to health needs.

After opening remarks by Dr. Katharine Hill and Dr. Jessica Toft, the events’ planners and co-facilitators, Dan McLaughlin, the Director of the Center for Health and Medical Affairs at the University of St. Thomas, opened up the conversation by giving an overview of the ACA, particularly as it relates to clinical social work practice. He drew specific attention to the population health orientation of the ACA, as well as to its emphasis on holistic, coordinated, and integrated health care, including mental health care.

The next speaker, Sue Abderholden, serves as the executive director of the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) – Minnesota Chapter. In this role she acts as a policy expert and advocate for people with mental illness. Abderholden offered her views of the ACA’s impact on people living with mental illness, saying that she was, in sum, optimistic about the law’s long-term impacts on access to high-quality care for people with mental illness.

The next two speakers on the panel are both working in the field of mental health services, and so were well-positioned to speak to the ACA’s impact on their work environments. The first, Dr. L. Read Sulik, serves as the chief integration officer and child and adolescent psychiatrist at PrairieCare. Dr. Sulik spoke about his efforts at PrairieCare to achieve the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s “Triple Aim” through integration of primary and behavioral health care. (The “Triple Aim” is the goal of simultaneously improving the patient experience of care [quality and satisfaction], improving the health of populations, and reducing the per capita cost of health care.)

He particularly focused on emerging roles for social workers as the ACA rolls out – for example, as patient care specialists, care coordinators, or wellness coaches. Regardless of the title of the role, Dr. Sulik believes that the ACA has created opportunities for integrated health care, including behavioral or mental health care, and that clinical social workers are particularly well-suited to provide this type of care.

The final speaker, Chris Hickman, LICSW, is system director of Fairview Counseling Centers and Clinical Integration. Mr. Hickman also emphasized the opportunities for rethinking behavioral health care services that the ACA has created. For example, he pointed to Fairview’s integrated behavioral health model as an example of the type of cross-systems work that the ACA calls for. He identified new roles for clinical social workers as well, including an integration of mental health and physical health care, seeing clinical social work as part of a health care team, and providing “whole person care,” a concept that was repeatedly mentioned by all of the panelists.

After the panelists spoke, Dr. Toft facilitated a lively discussion with audience members. The conversation ranged from questions about how the ACA and its new roles for clinical social workers would impact social workers in private practice, to how different service providers were responding to the laws’ mandates, to its impacts on clients who are economically at-risk and have mental health needs.

The forum served to highlight that the ACA policy does, indeed, have significant impact on clinical social work practice. Furthermore, as the models for service are developed both within formal health care systems and for independent clinicians, it will be important for social workers to be involved.

Slide presentations from the event can be accessed on the event page