Expanding Mental Health Care to More Michiganders

by Amy Barczy

| 4 min read

Struggling with depression and anxiety for more than 20 years, a patient at Bronson Medical Group was resolved to a life dominated by her conditions.
After beginning a new Collaborative Care program at her primary care provider’s office in which she was able to switch medication and meet regularly with a social worker, the patient has seen huge changes in her life after eight months.
“Doing this program has made me more comfortable in opening up about issues and concerns,” the patient said. “I’m proud of myself in how far I have come after being miserable for so long. I am very grateful that I accepted the opportunity to do this.”
The Collaborative Care program is a groundbreaking new approach by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan to bring mental and behavioral health care into the primary care providers office – an effort that benefits patients beyond those covered by Blue Cross health plans.
Primary care providers coordinate their patients’ mental and behavioral health treatment plans in their own practices. This model is twice as effective in treating depression in adults when compared to more traditional care. More than 200 practices and 800 providers in Michigan have adopted the model to date.
“There’s been a drastic increase in the need for mental health services, both for adults and pediatrics. It’s a huge benefit for the patients because this is often a time where they feel very vulnerable,” said Dr. Brigitte Engelmann of Bronson Internal Medicine & Pediatrics. “I think it’s also really beneficial for psychiatry resources because it means the psychiatrist gets to spend that in-office time with the patients who are more severely ill. So, I think it’s kind of a win across the board for everyone.”
This is one of the ways Blue Cross is leading innovative efforts to address whole-person health – both for our members and for our communities at large.

Addressing the rise in pediatric mental health concerns

Dr. Jeffrey VanGelderen, a pediatrician at Children's Medical Group of Saginaw Bay, has seen the Collaborative Care program in action. His office is among a growing number of pediatric primary care offices in Michigan also adopting the Collaborative Care model
The children and teens he sees are getting faster access to the medication and treatment they need to manage conditions like anxiety and depression, rather than waiting on a referral to a specialist that could take months.
“They’re getting everything they need right out of our office,” Dr. VanGelderen said. “They’re getting treated quicker, and they’re getting their questions answered.”

Mental health education in schools

Schools often are a “second home” to Michigan kids. During the seven hours most children spend in school each day, they grow academically, foster their communication and character-building skills, and develop routines that will usher them into young adulthood and beyond. 
Students in hundreds of schools across Michigan have access to programs that can help them with social emotional learning through the Building Healthy Communities Program. Blue Cross, along with community partners, supports this program to help bridge the gaps between the needs of students and staff.
Students can learn about self-care, mindfulness and yoga –helping them to learn coping skills. School staff also have access to suicide prevention training, social and emotional support education and staff well-being initiatives.
Since 2009, over a half-million students have benefitted from physical and emotional health-focused improvements to the school environment led by Building Healthy Communities.

Helping members connect to mental health care

Increasing access to behavioral health care is a priority for Blue Cross – both in our communities, and for our members.
With an increased demand for virtual behavioral health care, Blue Cross has added 2,000 licensed therapists to its nationwide network in the past year to help members. Blue Cross and Blue Care Network members aged 18 and older with behavioral health coverage are able to access help through AbleTo, a virtual behavioral health provider.
New services that launched in 2022 by Blue Cross and Blue Care Network for members bring mobile crisis care directly to individuals who need urgent help. Walk-in care for emergency and urgent situations is available – as well as virtual services – through participating facilities.Crisis stabilization and residential crisis treatment programs are also available through participating facilities in communities across the state.
“The beauty of these services is they can meet the member where they are and be accessed any way you need to access them,” said Dr. William Beecroft, medical director of behavioral health at Blue Cross.
Learn more about the ways Blue Cross is ready to help support members and the community with mental health care here on MIBluesPerspectives.com. 
Photo credit: Getty Images

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