Objective: We examined trends in delivery of mental health and substance abuse services at the nation's community health centers.
Methods: Analyses used data from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), Bureau of Primary Care's (BPHC) 1998 and 2003 Uniform Data System, merged with county-level data.
Results: Between 1998 and 2003, the number of patients diagnosed with a mental health/substance abuse disorder in community health centers increased from 210,000 to 800,000. There was an increase in the number of patients per specialty mental health/substance abuse treatment provider and a decline in the mean number of patient visits, from 7.3 visits per patient to 3.5 by 2003. Although most community health centers had some on-site mental health/substance abuse services, centers without on-site services were more likely to be located in counties with fewer mental health/substance abuse clinicians, psychiatric emergency rooms, and inpatient hospitals.
Conclusions: Community health centers are playing an increasingly central role in providing mental health/substance abuse treatment services in the United States. It is critical both to ensure that these centers have adequate resources for providing mental health/substance abuse care and that they develop effective linkages with mental health/substance abuse clinicians in the communities they serve.