In today’s rapidly changing healthcare landscape, understanding those who lead the charge can be critical to the continuation of professional abilities. This new blog series will feature local leaders in the behavioral health care integration field- those who are blazing the trail for more holistic care in Arkansas. In this candid, inaugural post, project manager, Caitlyn Johnson sat down with Arkansas Behavioral Health Integration Network’s leadership team, CEO Kim Shuler, LCSW and CMO Patty Gibson, MD to learn more about what fueled their desire to change healthcare.


What is your definition of BHI?

[Kim]: BHI is patient centered care that meets the patient where they are and addresses their physical health as well as their mental health and substance abuse needs, health behaviors, and life stressors. This is a team approach that focuses on whole health. Everything is connected- mind, body, and spirit.

[Dr. Gibson]: BHI is a team-based care approach to addressing the whole person, meaning physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. This can include several different medical specialties like primary care, internal medicine, pediatrics, oncology, sleep etc. as well as the staff in the medical clinic like MA, clinic manager, and even front desk. By using an analytic, population health approach and measuring outcomes not only by screening scores but by patient and provider satisfaction, interventions work for not only individuals but the communities they live in as well.


Q: Why is BHI so important?

[Kim]: BHI is so important because primary care has become the “de facto mental health system”. BHI plays a critical role in destigmatizing mental health needs and makes mental health part of routine healthcare. Behavioral health is critical to a person’s overall health. Often patients do not realize they have a behavioral health need and don’t know where to get help. By integrating into a primary care office, behavioral health clinicians become part of the care team, borrowing that trust from the PCP, and working with the patient in a safe environment.

[Dr. Gibson]: I believe in the concept of “there is no health without mental health.” At the very basic level, BHI increases health equity by providing psychoeducation and preventative techniques to whoever walks in the door. We must be careful not to pathologize normal emotions like grief and stress or a normal reaction to a new chronic condition. BHI allows treatment/intervention for people in distress without the confines of a psychiatric disorder diagnosis by understanding the context of the patient. BHI also helps with the advancement of scientific research on not only mental health disorders but also chronic disorders like hypertension, diabetes, or chronic heart failure and how behavioral interventions can improve health outcomes.


How has BHI changed your practice as a social worker/ psychiatrist/ clinician?

[Dr. Gibson]: The team-based care approach broadened my awareness to include not only the patient but their community too which can be the care delivery system they’re apart of, the policy framework that effects that system and even the payors and lawmakers that develop those frameworks. I enjoyed seeing patients in the primary care clinic as part of the patient’s team rather than in a separate mental health department. It was encouraging to see so many patients make dramatic improvements in their suffering as well as to see the satisfaction and appreciation of the primary care staff.

[Kim]: It allowed me to transform my practice to really get to the root of patient’s problem. I would see patients in long term therapy but their needs with chronic ailments like DM or HTN were not being met, causing the patient to not meet the therapeutic goals as well. Ultimately, it has helped me adopt a holistic philosophy to treatment.


Q: What specific needs did you see in AR that you thought an organization like ABHIN could answer?

[ Kim]: We were born out of a CPC+ workgroup of payors, PCPs, care coordinators, and healthcare administrators. To decrease care barriers, clinicians needed educational opportunities to feel more confident addressing the behavioral health needs in Arkansas; so, the idea of an integration educational network was developed.

[Dr. Gibson]: As clinicians ourselves, Kim and I personally experienced the challenge of implementing BHI, so we looked at national organizations like CFHA and IIBHN and saw how they have become a vital resource in their respective states. Arkansas needed something like this; a grassroots, independent nonprofit organization that allowed a non-biased approach to population health care that helped increase care access for Arkansans regardless of where or how they receive their healthcare.


Q:  How did you develop ABHIN’s mission?

[Kim]: A lot of late nights and collaboration. We wanted to see ABHIN as a healthcare bridge between primary care and behavioral health.  So, we developed a shell and met with the board at an all-day retreat to strategize.

[Dr. Gibson]: The mission is a living idea. We worked with our board on a definition that encompasses the idea of a healthcare bridge helping to answer the mental health workforce shortage; but as we are exposed to different sectors, we continue to evaluate the mission to ensure it reflects the changes and needs of the healthcare field.


Q: How can women early in their careers prepare themselves for leadership roles like the ones you hold?

[Kim]: Finding a mentor is one of the most important things someone early in their career can do. Having access to someone you trust to ask those vulnerable questions will help you to always stay learning and growing. There will be some instances where you will need to ask for a seat at the table but don’t be afraid to take those risks.

[Dr. Gibson]: I am still learning which is an important piece of leadership. Having confidence or figuring out how to increase that confidence in your own knowledge and credibility is something I have leaned into. This has helped me learn to advocate for myself and speak loudly, when needed. Identify a mentor and understand what you are passionate about and not passionate about because you cannot do both things at once. Ask for help when you need it and take advantage of learning experiences when they present.


We thank Kim and Dr. Gibson for sitting down with Caitlyn to share their insight on BHI. For their full bios, please visit our website at Board of Directors – ABHIN (