The MEND (Mastering Each New Direction) team, led by Professor of Counseling and Family Sciences Dr. Brian Distelberg and alumnus Dr. Daniel Tapanes, have developed and implemented a program emphasizing mental health integration with chronic illness. MEND began as a collaborative project between the Loma Linda University Behavioral Medicine Center with School of Behavioral Health faculty. The program works with individuals from 8-80 years of age, and its focus is on identifying and coping with internal, external, or relational stressors that are impacting physical condition. Since its inception in 2010, the MEND team has served over 4,000 families locally and has produced 14 published research studies showing the benefits of this program.
In 2016, the Illinois Children’s Healthcare Foundation (ICHF) invited the team to meet with them in Chicago to discuss a plan to help Chicago-based families struggling with chronic illnesses. As a result of these meetings with MEND, ICHF and the Cook County Department of Health and Hospital Systems agreed to a plan with the aim of improving healthcare for Chicago pediatric patients.
This month, Drs. Distelberg and Tapanes began a 3-year-long process of working with the Cook County Health system to implement the MEND program at the largest County-operated hospital in Chicago. This is a significant undertaking due to the unique challenges involved when transferring the known outcomes of a behavioral health program to other settings. This implementation requires ongoing support from the MEND team, and Dr. Tapanes will be onsite in Chicago for extended periods of time. In addition, Dr. Distelberg will provide quality assurance support as well as helping ICHF access Medicaid funding to support the long-term sustainability of the Chicago-based MEND model. Pending success of the program, John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital of Cook County will be the first MEND-certified site. The team hopes to replicate this process in many sites across the country.