In 2018, a community health needs assessment uncovered widespread, unmet behavioral health needs in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Every U.P. county except for Marquette is a federally designated Health Professional Shortage Area for mental health care based on the number of psychiatrists per capita. The shortage of mental health professionals extends to Luce County, the home of Helen Newberry Joy Hospital in Newberry.
Laura Generou A 2018 grant in the amount of $65,000 from the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation is proving to help the hospital integrate behavioral health care, including help for mental health conditions and substance use disorders, into primary care operations. With the grant, the hospital was able to hire behavioral health consultant Laura Generou, a licensed clinical social worker, in October 2018. She was tasked with building a behavioral health program to better address patient needs. “The grant to Helen Newberry was an excellent opportunity to find creative ways to support the needs of the Upper Peninsula,” explained Audrey Harvey, executive director and CEO, BCBSM Foundation. “At Blue Cross we understand the importance of addressing physical and mental health because we must address the whole person and their life circumstances. This grant is helping individuals get social needs addressed that impact their quality of life and increasing access to behavioral health care in an integrated, sustainable way.” Whole person care in one place The integration of behavioral health into primary care settings is an idea that’s taking hold in many doctor’s offices and hospitals. By ensuring people have their mental health needs met, they’re better equipped to take care of their physical health, bolstering the desire among providers to see a more streamlined approach. When a provider at Helen Newberry Joy Hospital identifies a patient in need of mental health or substance use disorder services, they’re now able to refer them to Generou, who can provide counseling or help link them to other community resources. Before, patients were left to navigate a mental health system that often required a lengthy wait to get help. “They were going without,” Generou said. “Our patients have been really very pleased. Prior to this, there were very few folks up here who do therapy and even less who take Medicare and Medicaid.” Caring for a community in need Generou and her husband grew up in the U.P., so she was familiar with the issues Newberry and the region face. Many people in the sparsely populated area face a lack of employment and struggle with issues related to housing, food and education. With few health care providers, getting care oftentimes requires extensive travel, and transportation can be another barrier. Since Generou came on board, the hospital has been able to hire additional support staff for mental health triage. The need is great and Generou is working to expand training opportunities to grow the number of hospital staff licensed to provide therapy. The behavioral health program has a separate electronic records system to ensure confidentiality for patients, something Generou thought would be beneficial to ensure trust from residents in the small town. “People here know each other,” she said. “Families know each other. Nobody wants their stuff out in the street.” A designated therapy space at the hospital provides a warm and welcoming environment for people to work through their mental health issues and more. Generou explained that dealing with an underlying mental health issue often ends up empowering patients to work on other areas of their lives. Developing partnerships with other community agencies means Generou can point people in the right direction for help with housing or other life areas they need to address. “This is somewhere you can be comfortable,” she said. “You can say what you need to say, and you can get the help that you need.” The grant to Helen Newberry Joy Hospital was part of an $800,000 investment in U.P. health and innovation, provided through Blue Cross, the BCBSM Foundation and the Superior Health Foundation. Related:
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Photo credit: FatCamera