Integrating Primary and Behavioral Health Care in Michigan’s Health Centers

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It’s Mental Illness Awareness Week (October 6-12, 2013) and more than 100 organizations across Michigan are working tirelessly to elevate awareness of and access to integrated primary and behavioral health services for all Michiganders.

Health is defined as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmary.” Although Congress established Mental Illness Awareness Week in the 1990s, mental illness and behavioral health remained a taboo topic that resulted in the stigmatization of individuals who often ended up going without adequate care; that is, until the emergence of the integrated care structure seen in many of Michigan’s Health Centers today.

This week, and every week, Michigan Health Centers and partner organizations are collaborating to combat inadequate access to appropriate mental and behavioral health care and challenge the traditional siloed systems of care. By taking crucial steps towards a fully integrated system featuring partnerships between primary care providers and mental health/substance abuse providers, access to necessary primary and behavioral health care can be a reality, even for the underserved.

“Behavioral and mental health is an integral part of a person’s overall health and well being,” said Brittany Beard, MPCA’s Program Specialist working closely with organizations throughout the state on care integration efforts. “It is essential to treat patients for all health concerns and MPCA is dedicated to breaking down barriers and supporting Michigan’s safety net providers as they work to ensure patients have access to comprehensive care that addresses their whole health.”

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 70% of all primary care visits stem from psychosocial issues and additional research from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Center for Integrated Health Solutions shows that 68% of adults with mental illness have one or more chronic physical condition. In light of these findings, an emphasis on integrating primary and behavioral health care is growing increasingly more common.

Although Michigan Health Centers have provided behavioral and mental health services for decades, they have made great strides over the past few years toward fully integrating behavioral/mental health and primary care. At Cherry Street Health Services in Grand Rapids, the Durham Clinic has a fully integrated multi-disciplinary team of staff from three merged organizations: Cherry Street Health Services (a Federally Qualified Health Center), Touchstone Innovare (which has a Community Mental Health contract for severe and persistent mental illness), and Proaction Behavioral Health Alliance (which provides substance abuse treatment). The multi-disciplinary team consists of a full-time internist, a medical assistant, a psychiatrist, six health coaches, two case managers, a full-time register nurse, a part-time physician assistant, and a peer support coach. With the entire team cross-trained across the disciplines, all chronic health conditions are treated together with all providers following the same treatment plan regardless of whether those conditions are considered physical, mental, or behavioral. As a result of the implementation of this team-based approach, health outcome goals for more than 700 patients have been met or exceeded.

Another Michigan Health Center offering fully-integrated services is MidMichigan Community Health Services located in Houghton Lake. At this Health Center, which has been designated as a “Best Practice” by the Health Resources and Services Administration, two full-time behavioral health clinicians provide co-located and fully integrated services. The on-site licensed professional counselor provides traditional psychotherapeutic services across the lifespan, while the psychologist serves as director of the behavioral health service and integrated primary care program, also functioning as the behavioral health consultant to the primary care providers. Through this structure, both patients and providers view the system as cohesive and holistic, ultimately increasing the likelihood of patient success in the program.

Everywhere you go in Michigan, one can find collaborative primary and behavioral health services at some point along the integration continuum. As we recognize and celebrate Mental Illness Awareness Week, take some time to get to know what is offered in your community and the surrounding area by visiting MPCA’s online Behavioral Health Integration map. This important tool showcases efforts across the State of Michigan to develop and implement integrated models of care delivery and contains valuable information that can help raise awareness and save lives. For additional information, please contact Brittany Beard.


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