October 05, 2022

Providing mental health and additional services in primary care treats the whole patient

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Pediatric Primary Care Clinic bookshelves WEB600Primary care plays an important role in the overall health of children and adults. Consistent primary care can help with early detection and intervention of chronic and acute diseases. For children, primary care visits usually involve staying up to date on childhood vaccination schedules and checking progress of different developmental milestones.

The Pediatric Primary Care Clinic (PCC) at UAB has been providing care for their patient’s physical needs for over 30 years. Recently the PCC has been working to ensure other needs of their patients are being met, including mental health, through the work of Margaret Canter, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurobiology, and Alexis Laster, LMSW, medical social worker in the PCC. 

“It is essential to treat the whole person,” explains Laster. “A parent can’t prioritize primary care appointments and needs when there are basic needs going unmet. When we are able to intervene, we can assist in addressing those unmet needs and potentially increase healthcare outcomes in the long term.”

Laster serves as a liaison for patients and their families who visit the PCC to support whatever needs they may have. She connects them with resources and services based on their individual needs to help improve outcomes for the patient. Some of these services and resources may include food, transportation, mental health services, WIC, cribs, and Medicaid.

ALaster HeadshotNEWS600Alexis Laster, LMSW

“I believe that mental health is primary care,” says Laster. “Physical health can be impacted by mental health. If mental health is not addressed, physical health will likely suffer as a result.”

Laster explains that access to mental health providers is a crucial need for pediatric patients, but many barriers prevent patients from being able to access the mental health help they need. The PCC is working to combat these barriers by providing access to Dr. Canter for mental health therapy and consultation.

Dr. Canter joined the PCC in January 2022 and provides a variety of services to the patients and their families, including same-day consults and therapy intake evaluations to determine what services would best support the child and/or family and individual therapy, family therapy, and parenting sessions to address the children’s mental health needs.

Canter MWEB600Margaret Canter, Ph.D.

“I like to think of myself as an ambassador for mental health services,” explains Dr. Canter. “Most of the families I see in the PCC have very little experience with mental health treatment, or their previous experiences have not been positive. I am trying to help people see that therapy is beneficial and does not have to last forever. If we can intervene early and get children the help they need when they are young or when the problems first arise, the problems are easier to treat and these kids can go on to live safe and fulfilling lives.”

By being located in the PCC, a place patient and their families know and trust, Dr. Canter is able to work with the doctors and nurses to encourage families to participate in therapy and other important services. This also allows for easier access to mental health services for these families, who often experience long wait times and other barriers when seeking mental health care outside the clinic.

“So many physical and emotional symptoms are intertwined,” explains Dr. Canter. “I think when people do not feel good mentally, they often do not take care of themselves physically. Children need to be healthy both physically and mentally to reach their full potential.”

For more information about the Pediatric Primary Care Clinic, visit here.