Mind, Body, Soul: BCBSM Foundation Grant Will Help GR Health Center Serve Whole Person

Mind, Body, Soul: BCBSM Foundation Grant Will Help GR Health Center Serve Whole Person

As a registered nurse, Kristen Winkler has witnessed firsthand the difference mental health treatment makes for patients who are also managing chronic conditions such as diabetes.

For someone dealing with depression, everyday tasks such as remembering to take medication or making it to appointments can be extremely difficult. The will and motivation to exercise and eat right is wiped out.

For those able to access mental health care, the change can be drastic. Along with getting their depression under control, patients’ blood sugar and blood pressure start to improve and a path forward can be established.

The people who receive care at Browning Claytor Health Center in Grand Rapids will soon have expanded access to mental health services thanks to a grant made possible through a unique collaboration between Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation, the Ethel and James Flinn Foundation and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. The $100,000 grant will pay for on-site counseling services and the establishment of other improvements to the center’s current mental health screening and referral system.

The center, which is a community benefit ministry of Mercy Health, serves about 4,300 patients in the Madison Square neighborhood. Nearly half are on Medicaid and about 20 percent are uninsured. There’s a critical need for mental health care. Over a three-month period, 83 percent of patients showed indications of depression.

“This population is particularly at risk for mental health issues and (not) knowing how to use their community resources,” Winkler said.

Mercy Health Saint Mary’s Director of Operations Kris Drake said many factors are often at play when it comes to the mental health needs of the center’s patients. Economic challenges, transportation issues, and family situations can all contribute to and exacerbate mental health conditions. Providing counseling where people are already receiving standard health care will help ensure greater follow-through on recommendations to receive mental health treatment, which previously had to be obtained elsewhere.

Keeping it all under the same roof is not only more convenient, it also draws on an already-established trust that patients feel with center staff.

“We just treat everyone like they’re family,” said Karen Kennedy, Medical Director, community benefit ministries, Mercy Health Saint Mary’s.

Over half of Browning Claytor’s patient base is African American, a population that has historically been distrustful of the medical community thanks to episodes such as the Tuskegee study, Kennedy explained. She said some patients will be able to breathe easier when they realize more of their needs can be met at Browning Claytor.

“I don’t know how we even function without somebody like that,” Kennedy said, referring to the social worker who is being hired to provide the counseling.

The new position will free existing staff to focus on their core job functions, helping everyone at the center to excel in their duties. Improved mental health for patients will also positively impact their families and communities. The improved care that will be offered aligns with Mercy Health’s philosophy as a Catholic organization to treat the mind, body and spirit.

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