Local governments play an important role in improving substance abuse and mental health services. The structure of the local learning collaborative requires careful attention to old relationships and challenges local governmental leaders to help move participants from a competitive to collaborative environment. This study describes one county's experience applying the NIATx process improvement model via a local learning collaborative. Local substance abuse and mental health agencies participated in two local learning collaboratives designed to improve client retention in substance abuse treatment and client access to mental health services. Results of changes implemented at the provider level on access and retention are outlined. The process of implementing evidence-based practices by using the Plan-Do-Study-Act rapid-cycle change is a powerful combination for change at the local level. Key lessons include: creating a clear plan and shared vision, recognizing that one size does not fit all, using data can help fuel participant engagement, a long collaborative may benefit from breaking it into smaller segments, and paying providers to offset costs of participation enhances their engagement. The experience gained in Onondaga County, New York, offers insights that serve as a foundation for using the local learning collaborative in other community-based organizations.
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