Mental Healthcare at Walmart: Experts React

January 29, 2019

Behavioral health services company Beacon Health Options brings outpatient mental health therapy to a Texas Walmart store. Here’s how experts say it will affect managed care.

One in five adults in the United States at any given time experiences mental health issues, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, but many do not have access to quality behavioral healthcare.

Boston-based Beacon Health Options aims to destigmatize mental healthcare and place more trained clinicians in neighborhoods by opening a behavioral healthcare clinic in a Carrollton, Texas, Walmart store. More than 10.1 million Texans live in an area that is considered to have a shortage of mental healthcare professionals, and only 35% of all mental healthcare needs are met statewide.

The clinic will address individual mental health issues, as well as common issues such as depression, anxiety and stress, grief, and relationship struggles.

Experts share their takes on what Beacon Health Options’ foray into the retail giant space means to the industry.

Emily S. Bridge, MSW, LCSW, director of community & member engagement for Cardinal Innovations Healthcare, a managed care organization serving people and families with complex needs in North Carolina:

“Putting behavioral health services right where people live, work, and shop is one way to help solve some of the crucial care access problems we face-especially in areas with limited resources such as rural communities and urban neighborhoods. I question whether people will have privacy concerns, but my hope is that steps like these may actually start to lessen existing stigmas around behavioral health. People don’t think twice about visiting the bank or the eye doctor at Walmart; why not the same for the behavioral health therapist?”

Michael Cantor, MD, JD, chief medical officer, CareCentrix, a Stamford, Connecticut-based provider of value-based home care with home health management solutions and services that support improved outcomes and efficient care delivery:

“This is the latest example of a shift in thinking to address the behavioral health crisis in the United States; and also reflects the growing acceptance of a change in fundamental care philosophy: that we start bringing healthcare services to patients rather than bringing patients to healthcare services. Lack of access is too common, and often prevents people from getting the treatments they need. Consider one recent study that reported 38% of Americans have had to wait longer than one week for behavioral health treatments, and nearly half have had to or know someone who has had to drive more than an hour roundtrip to seek treatment. This is unacceptable, when there are easier and more cost-effective solutions.

“Bonnie Cook, executive director of the Greater Dallas chapter of Mental Health America captured it perfectly: ‘Let’s discuss where individuals get their care and whether it’s better for us to come to where the person is as opposed to the person coming to us.’ There is no question that it is better for care to come to the patient, as opposed to the patient having to pursue the care. And we can, and must, go even further than providing behavioral healthcare in retail stores. 

“We should be delivering behavioral health services in the home. As we’ve discussed, there is growing evidence to suggest that providing services in the home for those who qualify can be extremely effective, while enhancing the patient’s quality of life. Numerous studies support the benefits and quality outcomes of home-based healthcare. Providing behavioral healthcare in the home will help achieve the Triple Aim goals of reducing costs, improving quality, and improving patient experience. The Walmart/Beacon venture is a step in the right direction to improve access for people who need it. Let’s also take the next step and bring behavioral health services home.”

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Joe Honcz, vice president at Precision for Value:

“Co-locating mental health clinics within the 4,700 Walmart stores and 597 Sam’s Clubs could put mental health clinics within reach of 90% of the U.S. population, dramatically improving access in both urban and rural communities. As a result, this is an excellent first step in addressing a significant treatment hurdle. Additionally, since these providers will be co-habiting within the existing Walmart care clinic, it could blunt some of the stigma associated with seeking mental health treatment, essentially treating it as similar to seeking help for high blood pressure.

“The addition of telehealth access is a bonus and could further support ongoing treatment when a run to Walmart isn’t on the agenda. The one potential killer variable is the economics, at greater than $100 a session, this might be lowering the access hurdle while simultaneously raising the affordability hurdle. It will be interesting to see if these providers will access insurance, which could moderate the cost to the patient.” 

Ken Cahill, CEO of SilverCloud Health, an online behavioral health, mental health, and wellness solutions company:

“Walmart’s recent initiative represents a key step forward in the push to destigmatize, ‘normalize,’ and increase access to mental health resources for the general population. Behavioral health should be integrated into our everyday lives-not just for when we struggle but to promote whole health by reducing stress and building resilience. And, the only way to make mental healthcare available to everyone, whenever it is needed, is through the use of evidence-based technologies.”