The world continues to move faster for mental health treatment organizations as reimbursement mechanisms change and providers are pushed to integrate services with general health, and the CEO of Harbor Corporation in northwest Ohio likens the situation to “changing the engines of a 747 in flight.” This means mental health treatment organization employees need more diverse clinical and business training than ever, but face greater time pressures for achieving this, Harbor CEO John Sheehan explains.
“The work happens faster now — patients are not in treatment as long as they once were,” Sheehan told MHW. As a result, productivity concerns predominate for clinicians, and the idea of sending a treatment team to an out-of-town training conference for several days quickly takes on the appearance of an unaffordable luxury.
This has made the concept of blended learning, combining online training with live sessions as needed, more attractive to mental health organizations in recent years. Harbor Corporation in July formally entered into an agreement with Cary, N.C.–based Relias Learning under which it now uses the online training company’s learning management system to assign training and to develop curricula on important subjects.
“One of the great things about e-learning is that if a staff member’s client cancels [an appointment], they can go in at that time,” Tracy Sokoloski, Harbor’s director of human resources, told MHW. “Also, we can use the system to track [employees’ training progress] and to run reports.”
Sheehan says the historically disparate funding mechanisms for behavioral health and the rest of medicine have kept the mental health community “on an island” isolated from health care. But now the emphasis has turned to chronic disease management, seeking to improve outcomes while reducing costs. Harbor responded to the change this year in part by forming a joint operating company with ProMedica, which has the same level of experience on the inpatient mental health side in the Toledo area that Harbor has achieved in outpatient services.
This development and others could eventually fuel a doubling of Harbor’s staff (it currently has around 650 employees), and it already is creating more complex training needs in the organization. For one, the merging organizations are accredited by separate national entities, making accreditation-related topics even more of a focus. Confidentiality provisions also have become a prominent training topic, as Harbor’s client base exhibits a greater prevalence of comorbid substance use problems.
In today’s fast-changing clinical and business environment, “We’re constantly in an innovation state,” Sheehan said. To understand how best to manage reimbursement and establish a financial model that is sustainable, staff training becomes a critical component, he said.
Having an arrangement with a training organization that serves as an exclusive partner with the National Council for Behavioral Health allows Harbor to respond to the diverse training needs and learning styles of its staff, Sheehan indicates.
“Physicians are scientists, clinicians are a little more on the feeling side and nurses are somewhere in the middle,” he said. “For us to develop a curriculum on our own would be challenging. The experts understand these needs.”
Sokoloski believes the Relias learning management system’s ability to track employees’ training progress and to conduct pre- and post-testing exercises greatly benefits her organization. “We need to determine ‘Are we delivering what we need?’” she said.
Sheehan says an organization could lose a bit of the human interaction element as it moves to more online training, but there are ways to compensate for that with online forums and other features.
Sheehan considers the investment in training to be a critical marker of his organization’s long-term viability. “Some reports estimate that up to 40 percent of mental health centers could eventually be out of business,” he said. “A lot of disruptive things are happening. The ones that will make it are those that are progressively looking at what they need to survive.”
Broader training needs
Kristi McClure, L.C.S.W., senior product manager for health and human services at Relias, told MHW that clinical and management staff in mental health organizations now need a broader scope of knowledge. “It’s not as much ‘I work with just this population’ anymore. Now it’s ‘I need to treat the whole person,’” McClure said.
Relias’ learning management system and content libraries offer mental health organization employees regular access to self-paced courses on key clinical and management topics. McClure says the technology has come a long way since the days when the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) training she received as a social worker a decade ago took the form of a giant text file. “Now it is interactive and involved,” she said of online learning.
Users of the Relias system also can manage any live trainings they conduct themselves or through another outside source via the Relias learning management system.
McClure said some of the clinical topics that are proving very timely in training right now include primary care integration and trauma-informed care. On the management side, she is hearing a great deal about leadership issues as longtime executives leave organizations, forcing these companies to take a close look at promoting from within and easing employees’ transition from a clinical peer role to that of a supervisor.
Relias made news of its own on the business front last week, as the European media group Bertelsmann SE & Co. (which includes book publisher Penguin Random House among its holdings) announced that it had reached a deal to acquire Relias from private equity firm Vista Equity Partners.