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Impact of Behavioral Health on Community Detailed In New Report


Wasilla, Alaska —The Mat-Su Health Foundation (MSHF) has published a report examining the care that Borough residents receive when they are experiencing a behavioral health crisis. It is the result of an ongoing research project called a Behavioral Health Environmental Scan (BHES) being conducted in response to a 2013 Community Health Needs Assessment that ranked mental and emotional health and substance abuse as the Borough’s highest-priority health concerns. The report just released focuses on the Mat-Su’s crisis response system, which includes ambulances, law enforcement, and hospital emergency rooms. It is the first of three reports which will result from the Scan.

“Behavioral health conditions can adversely affect the lives of local residents, and even contribute to premature death,” said MSHF Executive Director Elizabeth Ripley. “This report shows that the current system of care is not adequately meeting the needs of local residents seeking behavioral health treatment. Many people do not receive behavioral health care until they have reached the point of crisis, and we feel that there is an opportunity to offer care in the community before a treatable issue turns into a crisis.”

As documented in the report, impacts of behavioral health issues in the community include the following:

  • About 1 out of 4 vehicle fatalities and other serious injuries involve drugs and alcohol;
  • Alcohol and substance abuse is suspected in almost half of all Mat-Su suicides and homicides;
  • Mat-Su has a suicide death rate twice as high as the US rate -- 23.2 deaths per 100,000 people vs. 11.3 for the U.S.;
  • In 2013, 20% of Mat-Su middle school students said that they seriously considered suicide in the last year.

Beyond the human impact, behavioral health issues have a significant economic impact:

  • In 2013, the Mat-Su Regional Medical Center Emergency Department served 2,391 patients with a behavioral health diagnoses, with charges totaling an estimated $23 million.
  • An additional $1.6 million was spent on other parts of the response system such as law enforcement, 911 dispatch, transport, and services at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute.
  • These costs do not include expenses for Borough residents who went directly to Anchorage for care, bypassing the Mat-Su Regional Medical Center emergency department.
  • Patients with behavioral health needs had 6,053 visits to the Mat-Su Regional Medical Center emergency department in 2013. “Super Utilizers” – those with 10+ visits in a year – had 1,024 visits.

“Care provided to individuals who are in crisis in an emergency department is often less effective than other types of care provided in a nonhospital setting by behavioral health professionals, yet there are gaps in the availability of these services in Mat-Su,” said Ripley. “This results in residents not accessing care until they are in a crisis situation.”

Based upon this data gathered for the study, thirteen recommendations were presented in the report. Among the recommendations are the following:

  • Implement Medicaid expansion in Alaska in order to make behavioral health care available to more people.
  • Adequately plan and prioritize services regionally, such as through a nonprofit Regional Behavioral Health Authority.
  • Establish more behavioral crisis response services in the Mat-Su.
  • Provide crisis intervention team training for law enforcement and emergency responders, hospital and other crisis system staff.
  • Provide Trauma-Informed training for first responder.

The entire report is available on the Mat-Su Health Foundation website at www.healthymatsu.org.

Methodology of the Behavioral Health Environmental Scan
The Behavioral Health Environmental scan included a Gap Analysis and Community Perceptions Study, conducted by the MSHF, which used data collected from 65 in-depth interviews with crisis responders and other professionals. A Policy and Funding Analysis, conducted by the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education (WICHE) examined Alaska and federal statutes, rules, and funding data, as well as findings from15 in-depth interviews with key statewide informants. An Emergency Response and "Hot Spot" Analysis, conducted by McDowell Group, examined patient, visit, diagnosis, charge (cost), and first-responder data to provide a snapshot of how the community uses the Mat-Su Regional Medical Center Emergency Department. GIS mapping helped interpret emergency department and socioeconomic data at the Mat-Su Borough level. The full report and an executive summary are available at www.healthymatsu.org.


Mat-Su Health Foundation is the official business name of Valley Hospital Association, Inc., which shares ownership in Mat-Su Regional Medical Center. In this capacity, the MSHF board members and representatives actively participate in the governance of Mat-Su’s community hospital and protect the community’s interest in this important healthcare institution through board oversight. The MSHF invests its assets into charitable works that improve the health and wellness of Alaskans living in Mat-Su. More information is available at www.healthymatsu.org.


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