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Mental health has never been more important. In Michigan, access to critical services just got easier. 

MICHIGAN—Michiganders dealing with a mental health crisis have options when they seek help. At any time or day, they can visit one of nearly three dozen sites across the state and get the care they need. 

But that wasn’t always the case. 

For years, the publicly funded organizations—which offer a variety of mental health and other health-related services—could only help those covered by Medicaid or other publicly funded insurance. But that meant those covered by commercial insurance providers or those with no insurance at all were often turned away. 

Speaking with The ‘Gander recently, Community Mental Health Association of Michigan Associate Director Alan Bolter explained how the new initiatives have changed the way these organizations operate, expanding services to more people and enhancing those services, as well. 

“There’s probably 2.5 million people in the state of Michigan impacted by mental illness or addiction, or someone in their family is impacted,” Bolter said. “But there’s significantly more people impacted that are not on the Medicaid program. So this really is a chance to kind of broaden the access point.”

‘If They Need Service, They Have Access to It’

Beginning in October, 34 Community Mental Health sites across Michigan will be reimbursed through Medicaid for the full cost of providing services. 

These sites—Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHC)—had already been reimbursed for visitors seeking mental health care if they were covered by Medicaid. But people with private insurance or no insurance at all were sometimes turned away. That’s why this initiative is so important, Bolder said. 

“Hopefully this really opens it up,” he said. “So anyone in the community where these sites are, if they need service, they have access to it.”

To get this special CCBHC title, these clinics have to offer certain types of care, as well as a 24-hour crisis center. Part of the initiative to grow the number of CCBHCs is supported by previously passed legislation sponsored by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who has long been a champion of mental health care. 

In 2014, Stabenow and Republicans worked together to pass the Excellence in Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Act, which expanded community mental health and addiction services. The legislation aimed to close a funding gap that has existed between physical and behavioral health, putting an emphasis on improving mental health care across the US. 

“No person struggling with mental health issues or addiction should ever go without the treatment they need because grant funding runs out,” Stabenow said recently in a statement. “Health care is health care—whether it is above the neck or below the neck. That’s why I have been so dedicated to creating a way to fund all health care needs as part of our health care system. Now we are finally making that a reality.”

Improving Mental Health Care at a Crucial Time

Perhaps now more than ever, in the midst of a pandemic, mental health has been thrown to the forefront of discussions on self care. The importance isn’t new, but the pandemic—which has brought forth feelings of isolation to some—has exploited gaps in accessibility to care for some. 

“This is, you know, a much broader conversation,” Bolter said. “This impacts millions of people across the state of Michigan and millions of people across the country. There are a number of challenges out there, obviously, and the pandemic has put stress on individuals.

“It’s something that is absolutely critical.”

Officials in Michigan as well as in Washington D.C. are hoping to fix those gaps and improve accessibility. The key to doing that? Enhancing and expanding services to all people by creating the CCBHCs, the number of which is growing rapidly in Michigan. 

Stabenow has secured millions of dollars in grants to support the funding of these expanded services, and the results have already been felt by those seeking services. According to Michigan Department of Health and Human Services numbers, people who visit a CCBHC for services had more than 63% fewer emergency department visits for things related to behavioral health. These patients also spent over 60% less time in jails.

And why is that? Because they were able to get immediate help from mental health professionals. 

“These sites and these centers, now with this designation, instead of just A and Z, they provide A through A (coverage),” Bolter said. “So they have case management and they do outpatient therapy. They do mobile crisis. There’s peer support. They also do some physical health screenings, so there’s a whole wide range of services that would be available.”