The Impact of Natural Disasters on Behavioral Health

September 27, 2019 HMS

When natural disasters strike, physical safety is top of mind. The healthcare system mobilizes to assist individuals who have suffered crisis-related injuries, as well as people who are dealing with chronic medical conditions. During times of crisis, behavioral health also cannot be overlooked.

A recent article from the Tulane University School of Social Work highlighted that mental health issues are one of the longest-lasting effects of natural disasters. With this in mind, health plans must incorporate behavioral health into their crisis planning activities, which includes communicating with members about what resources are available to assist them with their needs.

Members with existing behavioral health conditions can benefit from proactive information about resources prior to disasters, as well as in the days and weeks following a crisis. In addition, members who have never needed behavioral health services may take comfort in knowing that assistance is there to deal with the grief, anxiety, and stress following a natural disaster.

HMS’ Eliza has a proven record of helping health plans communicate rapidly and proactively with members about medical services, emergency information, and insurance coverage. In particular, HMS has worked with organizations to mobilize communications related to behavioral health services.

We recently collaborated with a plan to proactively reach out to members who had been discharged for a behavioral health event. The goal of this multi-touch, multi-channel program was to assess members’ health status and reduce readmission. During the calls, specialists assessed each individual’s readmission risk and shared resources to help members with recovery. If people were found to be at higher readmission risk, they were offered real-time transfer to a health coach. The program results were encouraging:

  • Members who interacted with Eliza were 72% less likely to readmit than members who did not receive the outreach.
  • Of the members who were offered real-time transfer to a health coach for additional support, nearly one third (30%) accepted and 40% requested that a health coach call them back later.
  • Of the members who were offered additional health coaching, over half (57%) agreed to provide their email address for further communication.

This type of program could be highly beneficial for members in the aftermath of a hurricane, wildfire, flood, or any other type of crisis situation.

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