Behavioral Health in Remote Locations

It can often be difficult to provide quality health care in remote locations, and behavioral health is no exception to this. Southcentral Foundation has a considerable amount of experience with this; in addition to providing health care services for customer-owners in Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, SCF is also responsible for providing care in 55 rural villages in the Anchorage Service Unit. Many of these villages are so remote that they are accessible only by air. A previous article on this blog has discussed methods for providing high quality care in remote locations; this article will focus specifically on behavioral health care.

SCF favors an inclusive approach to health care, including behavioral care, that engages customers and makes them active partners in their care, on both an individual and a community level. As part of this approach, SCF develops Behavioral Health Aides (BHAs), who are village-based counselors who are given training to address behavioral health needs in their communities. Their education ranges from CDC to Masters-level Clinician. BHAs help customer-owners deal with a wide variety of issues, including alcohol, drug, and tobacco use, as well as grief, depression, suicide, and related issues.

The BHA program is facilitated through the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium’s Behavioral Health Department. SCF provides oversight and supervision for 10 BHAs in the rural villages of the Anchorage Service Unit. Weekly supervision is provided via telecommunication.

SCF also uses telehealth to provide behavioral health care in rural areas when it is needed. This takes advantage of the telehealth infrastructure SCF has in place for remote villages, and its use is expanding as bandwidth increases and technology improves. This can be augmented by clinical site visits by behavioral providers when it is needed. SCF works with the tribal councils in these rural communities to address each community’s unique health care needs. SCF also incorporates community feedback to continually improve care offerings.

There are many challenges that can arise in providing behavioral health care in remote locations, but as SCF’s experience shows, an inclusive, community-based approach can help navigate these challenges and lead to quality care being available for all customers regardless of physical location.