New Wellness Center to treat the body as well as the mind

One out three people seeking mental health care at Connecticut Mental Health Center (CMHC) in New Haven can’t identify their primary care doctor. Yet research has shown that people with serious mental illnesses have a higher prevalence of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other chronic health problems, and have a lifespan that, on average, is 25 percent shorter than that of most Americans.

Yale, local, and state officials — including Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman, —gathered at CHMC on Park Street on Feb. 25 to unveil a new Wellness Center they hope will begin to change those numbers.

Community-based medical partner Cornell Scott-Hill Health Center will provide primary care services at the new Wellness Center together with CMHC staff. The center was created with a $1.6 million Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration–Center for Integrated Health Solutions grant awarded to the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS).

The availability of basic medical care will be another in a growing list of services CMHC offers some 5,000 patients per year in the greater New Haven area. 

“This is how all health care should work,” said Dr. Robert J. Alpern, dean of the Yale School of Medicine and the Ensign Professor of Medicine.

CHMC is a partnership between Yale’s Department of Psychiatry and DMHAS. It serves primarily low-income people in the city who are disabled by serious mental illness and/or substance abuse disorders.

“Our patients deal with extraordinary challenges daily,” said Dr. Michael Sernyak, CEO of CHMC and professor of psychiatry at Yale.

The center, staffed by about 600 DMHAS and Yale employees, tries to help patients with as many of those needs as possible.

On Fridays in summer and fall, the center hosts a Farmers Market where patients can use supplemental nutritional assistance coupons to buy produce from local farmers. The center’s Hispanic Clinic and Latino Behavioral Health System help bridge language and cultural barriers in the treatment of about 500 patients. CMHC also assists young adults as they transition out of state-funded programs for children and adolescents. Patients being treated for chronic mental illness and substance abuse problems also have access to a network of community programs that include housing and residential services, employment services, and social rehabilitation..

“We know all too well the intricate link between physical and mental health,” said Dr. Thomas J. McNamee Jr., chief wellness officer at Cornell Scott-Hill Health Center. “We cannot continue, as a society, to think they are separate and apart. When we treat a person, we need to treat the entirety of the person.”