Trends in mental health and substance abuse services at the nation's community health centers: 1998-2003

Am J Public Health. 2008 Sep;98(9 Suppl):S126-31. doi: 10.2105/ajph.98.supplement_1.s126.


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.