To provide a more integrated type of health care, Edgewater Systems for Balanced Living has purchased primary care offices in Gary and Griffith.

Edgewater Systems previously only provided mental health services though its Edgewater Behavioral Health Services subsidiary.

"The focus is to treat the whole patient and make it more convenient for patients," said Danita Johnson Hughes, Edgewater president and CEO.

"The national trend is that insurers and the federal government are looking toward an integrated model, where people can be treated for all kinds of illnesses, chronic illnesses, not just mental health."

Other local community mental health centers, such as Regional Mental Health Center and Porter-Starke Services, have opened stand-alone health clinics in recent years. Meanwhile, safety-net health clinics such as Health Linc and NorthShore Health Centers offer behavioral health services on site.

The integrated model is thought to increase patient compliance and coordination of care, ultimately lowering costs and improving outcomes.

Edgewater obtained the offices, formerly known as Internal Medicine of Northwest Indiana, from Dr. Okechi Nwabara, who will remain on staff as the lead physician and medical director of both locations. Nwabara, who currently serves more than 6,000 patients, has practiced in the community since 1984.

This is illustrative of another trend in modern medicine: As the health care system moves away from the traditional fee-for-service model, more doctors are becoming employees rather than staying independent.

The offices, which are at 3535 Broadway in Gary and 1212 Broad St. in Griffith, accept all types of insurance and are open to seeing new patients. Johnson Hughes said Edgewater is looking to further expand by purchasing additional practices.

The only real difference for patients is they'll now have the option of seeing a behavioral health specialist on site to discuss any ongoing mental health issues.

"We're looking to be a health home, a medical home, for the patients we serve, somebody who may have diabetes and it's determined they are suffering depression," Johnson Hughes said.

In the past, that patient would have been referred to a mental health specialist. But what if she didn't have transportation or couldn't get time off work? Now the specialist will be in the office, increasing the odds of compliance.

"This is a huge benefit for all involved," said practice manager Sharay Hazel. "You have to look at treating the whole patient and not just parts. We want to make it a one-stop shop as much as possible."

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Giles is the health reporter for The Times, covering the business of health care as well as consumer and public health. He previously wrote about health for the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World. He is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.