LINCOLNTON – Partners Behavioral Health Management (Partners) will now be expanding its services to better serve children as a part of a $4 million grant project, according to partners Integrated Care Director Martha Kaufman.

Partners has five integrated care centers in the area – including one in Lincoln County at the Lincoln Wellness Center – that were incorporated into existing medical facilities in 2014, Kaufman said. Though facilities working with Partners will treat anyone “who walks through the door,” the grant money, which will be released in $1 million increments from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services over the next four years, will allow Kaufman and her crew to focus on children with “very high needs,” she said.

“They have to have a mental health diagnosis,” she said of the target patients, “trouble functioning, emotional trauma. Maybe trouble with the law or in school, all kinds of things.”

For the first two years grant money is available, Kaufman said Partners will mostly be working in Lincoln and Gaston counties before expanding further.

“Part of our goal is to make sure every child has a medical home,” she said. “A lot of kids with mental health issues don't take care of their physical health like they need to, and they die prematurely.”

To prevent that from happening, Kaufman has pushed for the Whole Person Integrated Care Model, which looks at anything from physical and behavioral health to transportation issues in order “to help people become and stay healthy.”

“(For example) many things we diagnose as behavior problems are really the result of trauma,” Kaufman explained. “So instead of just treating the symptoms... we can bring in as many of the best practices as we can, put them all together and apply this integrated care approach.”

As part of the grant and treating the whole child, Kaufman also plans to introduce Partners to a Positive Parenting Program (PPP).

“It has 30 years of research behind it,” she said. “PPP trains a number of individuals in communities to help families with parenting. From not sleeping through the night for real little ones up to bad attitudes for teenagers and everything in between.”

Kaufman said similar programs have a certain stigma and are thought of as tools for those “at risk,” but the reality is “every parent needs help.”

Kaufman also explained that the grant will help Partners track how well the new programs are working.

“We have a very comprehensive evaluation in place, now it’ll be even stronger with this grant,” she said.

And Kaufman said she’s not too proud to admit when something may not be working well, as “improving quality of life” is the goal.

“This is essential, but it’s not the norm,” she said of integrated care. “That’s where everything's moving because we have to.”

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