This is the second of a three-part series highlighting a collaborative of organizations in Sonoma County that use Purple Binder’s Referral Network to connect patients to vital social supports when they most need it. The collaborative includes West County Health Centers, Petaluma Health Center, St. Joseph Hospital, Petaluma People Services Center, and Food for Thought. You can read Part I here.

Closing the Loop on Mental Health Referrals

Since California expanded its Medicaid program in 2014, it’s been easier for patients to access mental health care. California’s Access to Care ranking, which measures ease of access to mental health care, rose from #39 nationwide to #25 between 2011 and 2014.

Despite expanded Medicaid coverage, access to mental health care remains an issue. In 2014, 62.3% of adults in California with a mental illness did not receive any treatment. This figure, one of the highest in the country, is especially surprising given that Californians who do receive mental health care get very good treatment: only 17.2% of Californians who received treatment in 2014 reported unmet treatment needs.

In Sonoma County, Petaluma Health Center and Petaluma People Services Center have partnered with Purple Binder to improve access to mental health care and to prevent patients from “falling through the cracks”.

With Purple Binder, providers at Petaluma Health Center can send referrals for follow-up mental health care over a secure, web-based platform, making it much more likely patients who are diagnosed with a mental illness receive follow-up care.

Make a referral

With Purple Binder, providers at Petaluma Health Center can make web-based referrals to mental health care providers, preventing patients from falling through the cracks. 

For example, if a provider refers a patient to counseling and the patient then misses their appointment, the counseling center can use Purple Binder to notify the provider in real time to follow-up with the patient.

At Petaluma Health Center, providers used to make referrals to other organizations by simply giving patients the necessary contact information. It was then up to the patient to do the work of scheduling and attending an appointment.

“We would usually say to the patient, ‘hey, here’s a piece of paper, a phone number, go in and see them,” says Danielle Oryn, Chief Medical Officer at Petaluma Health Center.

But providers at Petaluma Health Center didn’t have any opportunity to communicate directly with referral partners. Furthermore, they had no way to know whether patients followed up on referrals after receiving them.

“For some resources, that’s not a big deal,” says Oryn. “When I tell a patient, ‘these are the gyms and swimming pools,’ I can just ask them the next time I see them, ‘hey did you make it to the pool?’ With something like mental health services, we’re talking about specific higher risk needs. It’s actually really important for us to know that patient X landed at Petaluma People Services, and we don’t need to worry that the patient is going untreated.”

Elece Hempel, Executive Director of Petaluma People Services, agrees with Oryn that it can be difficult to close the referral loop.

“Follow-through is the biggest challenge we have. Just because we give someone a phone number doesn’t mean they are going to make the call. Purple Binder allows us to track follow-up to see if an individual made it to his or her appointment,” she comments.

Sonoma Case Study photo 3

Staff at Petaluma Health Center

Follow-through isn’t the only challenge Purple Binder addresses. According to Oryn, before Petaluma Health Center implemented Purple Binder, the specific details explaining why patients were being referred often got lost, or weren’t communicated in the first place.

“Oftentimes, by the time our patients got [to a social service agency], it was unclear why they were sent, and then the organization receiving them had to do a lot of work to figure that out,” she says.

Follow-through is the biggest challenge we have. Purple Binder allows us to track follow-up to see if an individual made it to his or her appointment. -Elece Hempel, Executive Director of Petaluma People Services Center

Purple Binder enables providers to exchange secure, HIPAA-compliant messages, ensuring that every referral also includes details about the patient’s needs.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), mental and physical health are closely related. Identifying mental health issues early can prevent debilitating physical health issues later in life. By partnering with agencies like Petaluma People Services Center, Petaluma Health Center is laying the groundwork for strong preventive practices that address patients’ overall health.

“We know that many of our patients’ health problems are affected by their social determinants of health,” Oryn says. “By working more closely with our community-based partners, we can do better at addressing our patients’ social needs.”