By Theo Bickel
International Community Health Services (ICHS) held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on May 28, to celebrate the expansion of ICHS’ Bellevue Medical and Dental Clinic. The new space will be used to provide behavioral health and substance use disorder services to ICHS patients living on the Eastside.
The expansion increases ICHS’ ability to integrate these services with medical services for whole person care.
Joined by Washington state, King County Council, and City of Bellevue elected officials, the small in-person event celebrated the expansion, as well as championed the importance of affordable and accessible behavioral health services in integrated care.
“The Bellevue clinic is the smallest of our multi-service clinics, but it is mighty,” said ICHS President and CEO Teresita Batayola. “Last year, we were the very first health center in the entire country to have a COVID positive case. It’s not a distinction that we like, but it’s a distinction that we’re proud of because ahead of the CDC guidelines, our medical team here, our leadership team, figured out that it was COVID and they appropriately protected themselves and the staff so that we were able to actually handle that first COVID positive patient.”
Batayola shared that immigrants and refugees have been doubly impacted by past years of federal policies of exclusion, as well as the mental health crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vulnerable populations who were already impacted also face barriers to accessing behavioral health, from language barriers to the lack of culturally competent providers to stigma.
“The concern for behavioral health was big even before this expansion,” Batayola said. “But the pandemic has made that demand even more so. Behavioral health needs are so high that we are very concerned about our populations, not just our kids, but all ages. So we do want to acknowledge the work of our legislators of the 48th, 41st, 45th districts who successfully maneuvered the legislative maze to award ICHS with $1.6 million to create this space for much needed behavioral health and substance use disorder services.”
Offering health services in multiple languages, the ICHS clinic in Bellevue also provides substance use disorder services to address the opioid crisis, including medication-assisted treatment. Bellevue’s Asian population is over 35%, according to the U.S. Census.
Located in the Crossroads neighborhood, the ICHS Bellevue Medical and Dental Clinic currently serves over 5,800 patients. When a patient arrives for an appointment, ICHS primary care providers will inform a patient that they have a behavioral health provider as part of their care team and how their behavioral health has an impact on their physical health.
“Offering behavioral health services is an integral part of one’s health, as opposed to an optional service,” said ICHS Behavioral Health Manager Randon Aea. He and Bellevue Health Center Manager Kia Truong gave tours of the expanded clinic spaces to elected officials during the event.
State Rep. Amy Walen and state Sen. Patty Kuderer were the major sponsors of the state funding for the Bellevue clinic expansion.
“I think if this pandemic has shown us anything, it has shown us that mental health is so incredibly important. It is integral to physical health,” Kuderer said at the ceremony. “Too long in this country, we have neglected the mental health of our citizens. And what did we see? We saw an uptick in suicides. We saw an uptick in domestic violence. We saw an increase in opioid use and abuse. These things don’t happen in a vacuum. They happen because we’re not paying attention. They happen because we’re not putting resources where we need to put them. One of the best investments we can make in the people of this state is in their health care.”
Also speaking at the celebration, former Bellevue mayor and King County Council Chair Claudia Balducci spoke about ICHS’ work in advocating for the community despite the perception that there aren’t health disparities on the Eastside.
“It’s often forgotten amidst all the wealth and economic dynamism on the Eastside,” Balducci said.
“But ICHS knows there is a need on the Eastside. … ICHS is more than just a health clinic. When it was clear that the rollout of the vaccines was not making it to the places that were going to be able to get to the folks most at risk, who were most in need and who were often underserved—some of our more diverse communities—Teresita [Batayola] and ICHS were some of the loudest voices saying that it’s not okay. That we’ve got to do better and they pushed and pushed until we did. And so you are also the strong champions and advocates for your patients and our community.”