IBC, City of Philadelphia Team Up To Address Mental Health Needs of City Residents

June 8, 2020
Peter Wehrwein
Peter Wehrwein

Website, media campaign designed to encourage Philadelphians who need help to seek it.

COVID-19, layoffs and large doses of economic uncertainty, the killing of George Floyd, protests, a country riven, a country confronting racial issues - there is nothing soothing the events of the past couple of months.

In Philadelphia, Independence Blue Cross and the city’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services have joined forces to encourage to the city residents to seek help for mental and behavioral health issues and reduce the stubbornly lingering stigma about doing so.

The MindPHLtogether (coined to be pronounced “mindful together”) consists of a website that has screening and referrals tools, a social media campaign, and virtual meetings. Launched last month, the campaign is the first broad public health awareness campaign that her company has sponsored with the City of Philadelphia, says Ginny Calega, M.D., vice president of medical affairs of Independence Blue Cross and a member of the Managed Healthcare Executive® editorial advisory board.

Independence is supporting the advertising and extensive social media promotions for the campaign and was instrumental in funding and guiding the website, according to Calega. She said the costs attributed to the campaign are a proprietary matter.

Behavioral health is an integral part of physical care, notes Calega, and it has been a top priority of Independence’s “to promote behavioral health care as part of a comprehensive, integrated, whole person approach to care for our members.”

Philadelphia has a dynamic “med-ed” economy, and an influx of millennials has enlivened the city; the population has been growing for the past 13 years, according to an April 2020 Pew Charitable Trusts report about Philadelphia that was written before COVID-19 and George Floyd’s killing. But 25% of the city’s household have incomes that are below the poverty line, and, as the Pew report notes, the city has the highest poverty rate among the 10 largest American cities.

“We know that the stresses of daily life for people in living in poverty who are struggling to make ends meet are immense,” says Omoiye Kinney, the communications director of the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services. “That’s why it’s very important for the public, especially low-income Philadelphians, to be aware of supports that are available for free or low cost through the city and its partners.”

Calega says some early research is showing that COVID-19 and related social isolation is having negative effects on people’s mental health, although Independence Blue Cross doesn’t have any specific data about its members.

However, Calega notes that large increase in the use of behavioral health telemedicine services. Independence’s data shows that there was more than a 3000% increase in the use of behavioral health telemedicine between the week ending March 15 and the week ending April 15.

Kinney says the city has conducted some surveys related to social distancing. “Preliminary findings indicate that the majority of Philadelphians are worried that they or a loved one will become ill with COVID-19,” she says. “We do not yet know how folks are coping with this worry, yet it’s why we feel the campaign is necessary, so residents are encouraged to stay mindful and seek help if needed.”