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Understanding ‘whole health’: Tompkins County combines health department with mental health services

Notes attached to the Resilience Project board on the campus of Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Notes attached to the Resilience Project board on the campus of Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Addressing mental health and making those services available to everyone who needs it has become a major talking point in the past few years. One response has been the creation and integration of Whole Health Systems. WSKG's Morning Edition Host Brent Fox speaks with Tompkins, County Whole Health Commissioner Frank Kruppa.

BF: So when we say whole health, what does that mean?

FK: Yeah, it's a great question. And we're, you know, excited to be getting getting the word out in Tompkins County, we've been working to merge our public health and mental health departments now for several years and the advent of Tompkins County Whole Health is kind of the end of that process, or at least the the formalness of it, we are looking to try to expand how we provide service to our community. And looking at it more holistically, we provide a wide array of services, we also as the, you know, the local safety net provider, and being part of local government, we have responsibility for the health and mental health and substance use and developmental disability systems as well. And we're really just trying to bring this approach that, you know, whenever an individual interacts with our department, or whenever we're talking about systems or trying to improve services in our community, that we're looking at it from how can we meet the entirety of the needs of the individual, rather than just one part of what might be a bigger a bigger situation for that individual community or population.

BF: And what was the process like to integrate mental health services into the Tompkins County, you know, public health system?

FK: Yeah, so we're, we've been doing it kind of informally for several years. And it really started with educating our staff about the wide array of services that are available throughout, you know, all of our programming. So that way, if somebody interacted with, say, our WIC program, and there was an identified need, or the family mentioned, they might have some mental health needs, there'd be an easy way to kind of refer make those connections, or at least know that those services were available. So we're doing a lot of work around that part of it. And we're also trying to really just, you know, understand how our system works, and making sure that we are holistically addressing the needs of those that, you know, come to us as well as our community as a whole.

BF: So what kind of services will be available to, you know, to the people of Tompkins County.

FK: They can expect the same, you know, great public health, mental health services that they've been getting. One of the big things we're excited about is we have, we actually have two buildings, public health and mental health, we're in separate buildings. And we have a project now to relocate, particularly our mental health services to our public health or public health facility, which is in the more northern part of the county, we're hoping that will create access, availability, and really different opportunities for individuals to access our service. And we've also begun to take some of our public health programming down to our mental health clinic, we've had a couple of vaccination clinics we've been able to offer for clients that are coming in for mental health services. So we're really just, you know, looking to provide as much as we can. And so that regardless of where you interact with our department, you'll have access to and referrals to all of the the programming that we're able to offer.

BF: And why do you feel it's a necessary thing to do to address whole health, not just physical, not just mental?

FK: Well I think one of the things public health has always been good about is talking about prevention, and getting upstream. And there's been a lot of conversation, particularly throughout COVID, around social determinants of health, and the the many impacts that, you know, an individual of a community a family could have. And so, you know, what we're hoping is that by taking this more holistic approach, and say, someone presents to us with a mental health diagnosis, but they also have diabetes, or, you know, they don't know where they're going to be sleeping that night, or they’re food insecure. If we can't address those underlying issues, it's going to be very challenging for them to address their mental health issues. So we're going to try to look at that individual as the you know, as an entirety and try to get them connected to the right services to help them be successful and have as healthy and well life as they can. And I think probably even broader for the entire community. We're hoping that, you know, we can set an example for our community partners, and you change the way that we talk about health and wellness, to be more holistic and not just be looking at treatment, but really looking at what are those upstream prevention initiatives that we could be implementing or evaluating to try to make an impact on the health and well being of our community.

BF: So what does all this mean moving forward for Tompkins County and the community at large?

FK: Our hope is, is that we're going to be setting an example about looking at health and well, being holistically and really, you know, working with our community partners and and the systems that are currently in place to. While we need to continue advancing our treatment opportunities in our community for folks. We definitely want to try to get upstream and talk about prevention, talk about social determinants of health, those underlying issues that make it difficult for people to be healthy and well and really try to address those systemically and holistically and really improve the overall health of everyone in our community.

BF: And I've been talking with Tompkins County Whole Health Commissioner Frank Krupa. Frank, it was very nice talking with you this morning.

FK: Same here. Thanks for having me, Brent.

Has been working in public media since 2018. Was a multimedia producer at WNIT in South Bend, Indiana before making his way back to the New York.