A program that's expanding in city hospitals seamlessly integrates mental health care with medical care. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.
A diagnosis of Hepatitis C meant six months of grueling treatment for Catherine Little, while Rosa Cubi said she "had back pains. I also had diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma."
At the same time, both women were also dealing with depression.
The combination of chronic illness and mental illness is more common than most realize. The CDC said that Americans with major mental illness, such as schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorders, die two to three decades earlier than the general population.
"They tend to have less access to good quality foods, lower incomes. They tend to self-medicate more with alcohol, smoking to help with their symptoms," says Dr. Michelle Soto, lead physician at the Woodhull Medical Center-Center for Integrated Health.
It was a real problem in the Brooklyn community that Woodhull Medical Center serves.
"We found that 60 to 80 percent of them do not show to their appointments," says Dr. Leoner Urcuyo, psychiatry chief at Woodhull Medical Center.
Woodhull opened its Center for Integrated Health in 2011. It's currently serving 850 patients.
"In this clinic, they have navigators," Urcuyo says. "What they do essentially is really make sure the patient is called before the visit, takes the medication, is really encouraging them almost on a daily basis."
They found that the key to getting psychiatric patients to attend to their chronic health needs was moving the medical clinic into the psychiatric wing.
"Here, all the patients have mental illness, so that stigma is taken away," Soto says. "They know that we're not judgmental."
Patients often see both their psychiatrist and primary care doctors in the same day, and when they're feeling under the weather, they head to CIH instead of the emergency room. Seventy-seven percent of their patients now show for primary care appointments.
"They know my story," Cubi says. "It's not like I have to start over with a new doctor."
"These people was the key points of really keeping me together," Little says.
Little is now Hep-C free and says her depression is under control. And in two years, Cubi has lost almost 100 pounds.
The program has since launched at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx, with plans to expand it throughout the public hospital system.