Bridging the rural mental health gap

Published May 17, 2022

Mental health is a foundational part of overall wellness - one that informs our sleep, immune system, relationships, physical health, ability to work and overall quality of life. Yet more than 70% of all U.S. counties have a shortage of mental health workers. These care gaps are worst for rural Americans, who can be hours from the nearest mental health provider. They may also lack the broadband service to sustain virtual care alternatives.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only added to these existing challenges. People across the country lost loved ones, faced food insecurities, weathered job loss and struggled to adjust to new ways of life. These stressors increased anxiety, depression, substance use and other mental and behavioral health challenges on a massive scale--increasing the already unmet need for rural care.

To ensure its members have access to mental healthcare no matter where they live, Regence health plans (Regence) have worked hard to expand access across their largely rural footprints in Washington, Idaho, Oregon and Utah.

At-home mental and behavioral health support

To creatively expand its network to areas facing mental health provider shortages, Regence has recently partnered with virtual care companies Talkspace and Boulder Care.

With Talkspace, Regence members have access to over 3,000 licensed professionals. From the comfort and convenience of home, they can receive ongoing, 24/7 support via secure messaging and live video sessions. 

For members with substance use disorders, Boulder Care brings in-network access to virtual addiction treatment, as well as long-term support for key social determinants of health like stable housing and employment. Members are paired with a clinician, care advocate and peer coach for wraparound care, encouragement and support.

"Regence’s partnership with Boulder Care enables us to increase access to treatment options for members struggling with substance use and do so in a manner that makes it more convenient and helps bypass stigma," said Dr. Hossam Mahmoud, Regence’s behavioral health medical director.

Community health services

Regence has donated $11 million to support community health centers across its service areas. These donations are focused on centers serving marginalized populations within rural areas. Community health centers provide essential mental health care to people who would not be able to access these services any other way.

Regence BlueCross BlueShield and Regence BlueShield are independent licensees of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, an association of independent, locally operated Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies.