PLAINVILLE — Wheeler Clinic will expand its healthcare network in Connecticut with next month’s opening of its fourth community health center, which will offer routine care in downtown Waterbury, as well as handle outpatient mental health treatments from Saint Mary’s Hospital.
The center will offer primary care physicians, medication-assisted treatment for alcohol and opiate addiction, laboratory services and chronic disease management. Plainville-based Wheeler clinic has offices throughout the Central Connecticut area, including Meriden, New Britain, Middletown and Hartford.
“Wheeler has a proven track record of providing Behavioral/Mental Health treatment throughout the state. We are very excited to welcome them into the community in collaboration with Saint Mary’s Hospital,” said Saint Mary’s Hospital President Steven Schneider in a statement. “The fact that they will be combining Behavioral Health treatment in combination with Primary Care Medical treatment for these patients will really raise the bar on the quality of overall care our patients receive.”
For patients with severe mental illnesses, managing routine medical care and their mental health can be challenging, so merging both services can improve treatment, Schneider said. Currently Waterbury Hospital patients must visit two separate departments to receive primary care and mental health services.
Wheeler Clinic President Susan Walkama agreed those with mental illness and substance use disorders are often not receiving adequate primary care.
“This population is often reluctant to seek primary care, experiences disparities in access to health care, and generally has poorer health outcomes,” she said.
The clinic will provide mental health care to around 1,500 patients annually and will build its primary care services gradually as demand increases. On top of existing positions inherited through Saint Mary’s outpatient program, Wheeler will be adding six new workers at the start and expects to add more in the future.
“The Waterbury area has a shortage of behavioral health and primary care services, particularly for people on Medicaid or poor insurance coverage,” Walkama said. “We are working to fill that need for Waterbury.”
The hospital has been planning the collaboration with Wheeler Clinic for around a year, Schneider said, after being encouraged by the success that Saint Francis Hospital in Hartford has had with their own partnership with Wheeler.
“We really like that model for our patients,” he said. “It’s an exciting new and additional collaboration between the hospital and a community (organization) that has a long history in the state of Connecticut and a great reputation.”