May 01, 2023
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on people’s mental health, but it has also empowered people to prioritize their mental well-being more than ever before.
As people seek help, they need a trusted source for mental and behavioral health services. With a focus on equitable, whole-person health, Independence Blue Cross (Independence) now has its own behavioral health case management services available to make it easier for members to get the help they need. The program supports members with mental health and substance use disorders, life stressors and crises, and stress-related physical symptoms. This allows members to engage with Independence clinicians, including nurses, for behavioral health help, as well as access enhanced services and ongoing support so they can stay on track with their care plan.
As part of its Celebrate Caring campaign to honor outstanding nurses in our region, Independence is shining a light on two of its behavioral health case managers to learn how they’re using their nursing skills and backgrounds to help members manage their health and well-being.
Rene Dillon and Barbara Leone joined Independence in 2022 after spending most of their careers in traditional nursing settings. Rene has spent most of her 17-year career working with inpatient psychiatric hospital patients (mainly adolescent girls), while Barbara has more than 30 years of experience as a behavioral health nurse, most of it in a hospital setting.
Rene was inspired to go into nursing many years ago when three close family members went into hospice care in one year. She was impressed by the nurses’ care and compassion and realized she wanted to provide that same experience for other families. Soon after, she enrolled in nursing school. When it came time to decide what kind of nurse she wanted to be, she knew right away that she wanted to go into behavioral health. She recalled her aunt’s struggle with mental health and knew that she could make a difference helping others in a similar situation.
For Barbara, taking care of others was in her genes. She grew up in a medical family (her dad was a doctor and her mom was a social worker who later became a nurse), so she always knew she wanted to work in the medical field. Since she loved talking to others and knew she didn’t want to be a doctor, she pursued behavioral health nursing.
While their inspiration for going into nursing was different, Rene and Barbara do have one thing in common: their passion for helping people improve their mental health.
“There are a lot of challenges with mental health today. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough providers or beds in treatment facilities. We are here as an extra resource for members.” said Rene. “Sometimes, people want help but don’t follow through right away. We’re here to encourage them.”
“I love talking to members and helping them figure out their strengths so they can create a healthier future,” said Barbara. “Sometimes, members are just stuck. I help them identify barriers and provide compassion to help them realize why they need a therapist.”
Independence members can call to talk to behavioral health case managers at any time. In most cases though, the case managers are the ones making outreach to members who may benefit from the behavioral health case management program. This includes members who have been admitted to the hospital for a psychiatric issue or have been newly diagnosed with a mental illness.
“When we reach out to a member, we explain our program and provide them with resources, educate them on their diagnosis, explain their medications, and help them find providers,” said Rene. “For example, one member was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had no idea what that meant. I helped explain it to her.”
Follow up is also an important part of the program.
“We check in regularly with our members on the program to make sure that they are accomplishing their goals (such as talking to a therapist), taking their medications, and developing and utilizing coping skills,” said Barbara. “We also remind them to take care of themselves and do pleasurable activities, such as going for a walk.”
Once a member demonstrates that they are doing well (going to their therapist, taking their medications, and having a crisis plan in place), all resources have been provided, and if the member doesn’t have additional needs, they “graduate” from the program.
Barbara and Rene have found that managing a person’s behavioral health care over the phone can be challenging since you can’t see facial expressions or mannerisms. Instead, they have to listen to the member carefully to understand their emotions. Despite the challenges, it’s a very rewarding job for both Barbara and Rene.
“I enjoy seeing people pull themselves out of a hole and succeed in life,” said Barbara. “I had a member in his 90s that didn’t know how to deal with the fact that he was in his final years. He was not happy about it. We decided a therapist might be helpful, but he didn’t have a computer. I made a referral through Quartet Health and was able to find someone who was willing to work with him via the telephone.”
“It feels good to know that I’ve been a big help to someone else,” said Rene. “I had one member who told me that she was struggling at the hospital. I helped get her into therapy. She was very appreciative and thanked me for treating her with dignity.”
As mental health issues continue to grow as a public health crisis, Barbara is proud to work for Independence.
“Mental health is important to everyone. So, it’s awesome that Independence does more than just pay the bills. They’re supporting members in so many ways, including mental and behavioral health,” she said.
Behavioral health case managers are available 24/7. To talk to a case manager, Independence members should call 1-800-ASK-BLUE.
This content was originally published on IBX Insights.
Mother. Wife. TV junkie. Shopaholic. That’s me in a nutshell – outside
of work. As a copywriter at Independence, I enjoy learning about the
health and wellness topics that I write about and hope to incorporate
more healthy habits into my daily life to give me the energy to keep up
with my baby girl.