Carolinas HealthCare System

Fellowship Program Recognizes Mental Health Treatment Requires Integration

Dennis Taylor

Dennis Taylor, MEd
Assistant Vice President of 
Center for Advanced Practice

The Center for Advance Practice (CAP) is an innovative advanced clinical practitioner program that provides ACPs with robust, curriculum-based clinical training. Carolinas HealthCare System is one of the first healthcare systems in the nation to create a System-wide, comprehensive approach for optimizing the crucial role of ACPs in response to the changing healthcare delivery platform. The goal of the CAP fellowship program is to provide exposure to an array of complex disease processes in the acute, primary and urgent care settings in order to prepare the ACPs with the skills necessary to be successful in delivering optimal care.

Our System has taken a progressive approach to developing curriculum with the integration of behavioral health in the primary care setting. Our healthcare system has historically treated mental health separately than physical health. Yet, we couldn’t be clearer on the correlation that exists between physical health impacting an individual’s mental health and mental health impacting an individual’s physical health. Integrating mental health throughout the primary care curriculum coupled with addressing behavioral health conditions, like any other health condition, is one way to address the fragmentation that exists.

"Our post graduate fellowship program is designed to provide confident and competent advanced clinical practitioners in many disciplines through a multidisciplinary and team-based approach," said, Dennis Taylor, MEd, MBA, DNP, ACNP-BC, FCCM, assistant vice president, Center for Advanced Practice at Carolinas HealthCare System. "The integration of behavioral health education is vitally important. ACPs need the skills and education to handle what they can and know when to refer patients to a mental health specialist."

As hospitals and systems move toward a team based model, integrating care must be focused and committed to being a central resource for the behavioral health needs of our patients and community. As recognition of mental health needs continues to increase, primary care and our network of ACPs will be the first line for intervention and treatment. This unique primary care fellowship spotlights the necessary training for ACPs to develop a comfort level in managing complex multiple comorbidities while developing expertise in behavioral health therapy with a knowledge base of community resources and therapeutic guidelines. The fellowship experience further promotes continuity of care for patients transitioning from inpatient to outpatient.

Our Center for Advanced Practice supports a team-based approach to healthcare and recognizes the importance of collaboration across all disciplines. Physical and behavioral health problems can occur at the same time, and integrating primary care screenings with behavioral health screenings addresses the whole patient. Moreover, ACPs are able to communicate across multiple disciplines while transitioning mental health patients and ensuring appropriate treatment options. Roughly one in four adults experiences a diagnosable mental health disorder. Carolinas HealthCare System is taking action to address the statistic: the System is embracing education and non-traditional providers to lead our efforts in engaging its mental health patient population.

"Early interventions, education and seamless access to treatment are the critical elements for real change and transformation," said John Santopietro, MD, chief clinical officer of behavioral health at Carolinas HealthCare System. "Our System is committed, invested in integrating behavioral health across the entire healthcare continuum."

Addressing our community’s behavioral health challenges requires both System transformation and community engagement. The first step is the integration of ACPs and behavioral health training into the System. The CAP Fellowship is devoted to providing the opportunity for ACPs to become board-certified in Primary Care, gaining exposure to a variety of specialized behavioral health environments that they may not have experienced in their formal education. Our behavioral health experts will provide pervasive education to our ACP fellows that will ultimately advance them one step above the traditional primary care practitioner.