Reagan Passion For People

February 19, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — As president of Proaction Behavioral Health Alliance, Michael Reagan spends much of his time building bridges.

Those connections — with others who provide counseling for mental health and substance use disorders, with policy makers in Lansing and across the country, and with the criminal justice community — buoy Reagan’s quest for social change.

“I spend a lot of time developing relationships with a variety of stakeholders important to Proaction,” Reagan said. “Some of our stakeholders are people who pay us to do business. It might be with Network 180, or it might be with the Department of Corrections, or it might be with other players in health care that purchase services or expect services from us. And then a whole lot is building relationships with others in the community, whether it be with United Way or other community-based organizations, that we can build bridges to make our services more accessible and complement what they do in the community.”

Project Rehab, founded in 1968, acquired Life Guidance Services, which dates back to the 19th century, more than three years ago. In April 2006, Proaction Behavioral Health Alliance was created as the umbrella organization, with Project Rehab and Life Guidance Services as its two divisions.

Project Rehab provides residential addictions treatment, while Life Guidance provides outpatient counseling for mental health and addictions. Employee Assistance Centers that previously were run by Project Rehab and Life Guidance have merged into one.

The change allows Project Rehab and Life Guidance to continue their missions while consolidating the cost of support services such as accounting and human resources, Reagan said. Mental health and substance use issues go hand in hand, he noted, because about half of those diagnosed with one disorder have the other.

The Proaction Behavioral Health umbrella also encompasses Community Treatment Centers in eastern Michigan, and Community Counseling and Personal Growth Ministry.

“We’re now able to gain efficiencies in what we can now call corporate services, so around managing human resources, billing, accounting, information systems — all of those important infrastructure supports that are necessary to get the services,” Reagan said.

He said that Proaction’s various pieces will retain their brand identity. For example, Project Rehab’s Employee Assistance Center has always been marketed separately to avoid stereotyping its services within the business community, Reagan said. EAC contracts with businesses to provide confidential counseling for workers.

Reagan, a Democratic precinct delegate who once ran for the state House of Representatives, said he relies on the board of directors to bring passion for the cause mixed with a sense of reality.

“We get people who share the passion of what we do, as well as business people who can bring their business acumen, who can say, ‘My God, this is just like all the companies I deal with every day, driven by the same market forces and stakeholder interests and competition.’ I mean there’s real competition.

“The other thing that’s out there is, well, we don’t compete. That’s nonsense. We compete for limited dollars and for the share of the public interest in the work that we do.”

Reagan is president of the Association of Licensed Substance Abuse Organizations, and is a delegate to the national State Association of Addiction Services. “A good part of my work there is in public education and advocacy around the issue that substance use disorders and mental illness are health care problems, and advocating to reduce the stigma attached to mental illness and substance use disorders, working to educate around how treatment works and how prevention works,” he said.

“We’ve got a health care crisis here in the United States of America, and within that health care crisis you primarily ignore people with substance use and mental illness. You don’t include them in coverage. You discriminate against them in health care plans, purposefully, to control costs. We’ve been working for what’s called parity, that substance use disorders and mental illness would be recognized (with health care insurance coverage) as equal to any other physical illness.”

Reagan’s passion for people came from his upbringing in an Irish, Catholic, Democratic family in Grand Rapids that included five brothers and sisters. He attended seminary and was a priest for several years, serving at two local parishes. He holds a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Athenaeum of Ohio and a master’s in counseling psychology from Western Michigan University.

But much of Reagan’s education occurred outside the walls of St. John’s Seminary in the Detroit suburbs of Plymouth in the late 1960s.

“We were going through both the civil rights movement and a lot of cultural changes, so that certainly shaped who I was and those whom I was in the seminary with,” Reagan recalled. “I just began to see that social change is really possible, that you can bring about real social change in relation to racial justice, in relation to dealing with issues of poverty. That really helped shaped me, that there was real hope in being able to improve the quality of life for our communities.”

Reagan left the ministry and went to work for the now-defunct Kent Community Action Program, ending up in administration.

“I learned so much. I worked in elderly nutrition, worked in job development, worked in a little bit of Head Start, worked in employment training programs, got involved in developing rural housing up in Cedar Springs. So the time I was there, I was involved in all sorts of stuff — great stuff, hard stuff.”

Then he become executive director of Community Coordinated Child Care and started knocking on the doors of local companies, trying to sell the idea of providing child care services for their workers. “I was out trying to sell employer-supported child care in the private sector and really being challenged,” said Reagan. So he decided to find out how Project Rehab’s Employee Assistance Center managed to sell its services. He arranged a meeting with Project Rehab in 1985 and ended up with a new job at the Employee Assistance Center.

“It was basically helping companies understand that their employees from time to time have all sorts of personal problems outside of the job,” he said. “And you can care about them and care about productivity at the same time. So I really enjoyed that experience, where I got to go into a whole lot of different companies (and) appreciate the different cultures that were there in terms of corporate culture.”

It wasn’t long before Reagan moved into administration, becoming vice president and then president of Project Rehab. He also teaches at Western Michigan University and Grand Valley State University, a sideline that he embraces more for the enjoyment than the stipend.

“I’ve been fortunate to find a place to work where the mission of the organization is very compatible with my own formal training in philosophy and theology around the importance of serving the community. Would I ever imagine myself being here 40 years ago? Absolutely not in my wildest dreams. But if look back over that whole experience, all of it shaped me.”    

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