The Center of Excellence for Integrated Care adds another level of expertise by welcoming Neftali Serrano as Associate Director. The Center of Excellence aims to integrate patients’ physical and behavioral health across health care settings. Serrano has years of experience doing just that, and we asked him a few questions to get to know him better:
What attracted you to the Center of Excellence?
After 14 years as a clinician and program developer I was looking for an opportunity to train a behavioral health workforce in primary care in a more efficient, scaled fashion. The Center of Excellence provides this opportunity to engage an entire state in developing an integrated care workforce. This is a really exciting opportunity.
Where were you before accepting this position?
Before coming to the Center of Excellence I was the director of behavioral health at Access Community Health Centers in Madison, Wisconsin where I developed a primary care behavioral health program that is one of the most mature and successful programs in the country. The team there is great and one of my proudest accomplishments professionally is that when I left the program was a strong as it ever was and will continue on in perpetuity as a result.
What are your hopes for the position?
I hope that in five years or so we are all able to look back and reflect how we were able to train hundreds of behavioral health professionals to provide integrated care to thousands of patients across the state of North Carolina and set a model for how to do so in a sustainable fashion for other states to follow.
In your experience, what’s been the best strategy for successful behavioral health integration?
The keys to successful integration are actually pretty simple. First, it is essential to have a relatively healthy organization. No project of any kind thrives in a dysfunctional organization. Second, it is essential to have clear that one of the main goals of integration is to support the day-to-day work of primary care clinicians. In other words, whatever you do should make life easier for the main cogs of your workforce. Third, you need behavioral health professionals who are truly able and willing to adopt a new professional identity related to primary care. Mental health professionals who work in primary care become a new breed or type of professional and embracing this is core to working through all the inter professional issues that will arise. And of course it is essential the mental professionals remember the first key, which is the primary care clinician is their first customer.