Delivering Behavioral Health in Rural Communities

What’s the difference between behavioral health and mental health? 

Actually, both phrases mean the same thing. But some people don’t like the term mental health because it has a negative stigma. The National Rural Health Resource Center ( is well aware of that stigma. They report that many Americans picture a person suffering mental health challenges as:

  • A homeless person on a city street
  • An out-of-control teenager in a large metropolitan school
  • A person locked in a hospital ward
  • Somebody making poor choices
  • Someone other than themselves

Fewer Americans picture:

  • A farmer or rancher with serious depression
  • A rural business owner or employee facing an eroding local economy
  • Someone driving 100+ miles to reach the nearest licensed therapist
  • Themselves

It’s true that there’s less anonymity in rural communities and people in small towns may be more aware of “other people’s business.” But rural neighbors are often also more likely to reach out to someone they know is hurting.

A Helping Hand

Health Care Collaborative (HCC) of Rural Missouri is one of those neighbors, offering behavioral health/mental health services through four Live Well Community Health Centers located in Buckner, Carrollton, Concordia, and Waverly. 

Behavioral Health Coordinator Shari Taylor worked in city hospitals, then switched to rural health care while working on her master’s degree in social work. She’s been with HCC about three years.

Transportation, scarcity of providers, and insurance gaps are just a few hurdles rural residents face. “There are many barriers to people in rural areas when it comes to mental health services, so it’s rewarding to help them get the connections they need,” Taylor said. “Each of our health care clinics has a social worker who provides therapy services, an adult psychiatrist, a child psychiatrist, and a psychologist who comes once a month to help with any testing that needs to be done. We’ve really been growing our services, especially over the past year.”

The Word is Out

Word is spreading. “We’ve been receiving referrals from other clinics that don’t offer therapy and psychiatry,” Taylor said. “We get referrals from hospitals when they’re looking for services close to a patient’s home. Or we’ll just get random calls from people who’ve heard we’ve started offering these services.”

Potential patients usually don’t have to wait a long time to be seen. “I had somebody call the other day, looking for a psychiatrist,” Taylor said. “But everybody they called said it would be three months or longer. I was able to get him into the clinic in a week and a half. When people are ready to make a change and they’re ready for the services, we want to make sure we don’t drop the ball – that we get them in as soon as we can.”

“We have trained people ready to help,” said Suzanne Smith, HCC’s director of network development. “Plus, with our FQHCs (Federally Qualified Health Centers), if they come into one of our clinics, people don’t know if they’re there to see a primary care physician, to get their teeth cleaned, or to see a behavioral health specialist.” The sign over the door simply reads Live Well Community Health Center. “That’s helped remove some of the stigma, I believe.”

Treating the Whole Person

Statistics show nearly 70 percent of food thrown away in the United States is edible. Another 60 percent of non-food products are still usable, including rejects, seconds, overruns, last year’s models, and discontinued items. 

The HCC Network, which is 60-plus members strong, connects businesses with local community service organizations. As a result, serviceable furniture, personal care items, household products and more can now be intercepted before being picked up by a trash truck. “We have a 7,500 sq. ft. warehouse where we glean items that would otherwise go in the landfill,” Smith said.

When a new patient enters one of HCC’s Live Well Community Health Centers, a risk assessment form is completed. A community health worker also meets with them to determine if there are basic resources they lack. Do they have electricity? Food? Are they sleeping on the floor? Critical tems – including a decent mattress – may be accessed from the warehouse to help the patient. “Everything that comes into the warehouse is free, and everything that goes out is free,” Smith said. 

She shared an experience with a behavioral health patient served by Live Well Community Health Center in Concordia. “When he first came to us, he made minimal money a month and had no food in his home. He worked for a local fast food place and all he ate was their food. We were able to get him on food stamps and applied for disability for him. We got him a haircut; a whole gamut of different things. And we got him a bike, because he was walking two miles each way to get to his job.”

Making the Call

“A key component in recovery is being able to talk about and work through these things, having an arm to hold onto when you feel you’re going to fall,” said Charlie Grom, chair of Lafayette County Mental Health Board. “If those things aren’t available to an individual, their chances for recovery are greatly diminished.”

It’s not unusual for someone to struggle with the decision to seek counseling or other types of mental health treatment. But real help is out there. “We don’t ever want to rush somebody,” Smith said. “We want to make sure they are comfortable, that it is 100 percent their choice to be in therapy before we begin services. But when they are ready, we’re going to be supportive and help them.”

For more information about HCC’s behavioral health resources and treatment, contact HCC at 660-259-2440. 

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