Patients denied mental health services

January 24, 2011
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LANSING — Years of funding cuts to Community Mental Health have hit people in need of treatment hard, and many CMH programs can serve only the most severe cases, experts say. As a result, many people with less urgent cases seek help from primary care doctors or hospitals.

A CMH unit is a public service provider that offers behavioral health services. Michigan has 46 CMHs that operate under a contract with the Michigan Department of Community Health.

“It’s a trend in Michigan,” according to Rebecca Cienki, director of policy and planning at the Michigan Primary Care Association. “As funding of CMHs continues to be depleted, they’re less able to care for people who are less severe.”

And if a patient isn’t covered by Medicaid, a CMH has to rely on reduced state aid to cover care.

Kathleen Gross, executive director of the Michigan Psychiatric Society, said both rural and urban areas lack mental health professionals. Each CMH has different priorities and a different amount of funding, she said, noting that it’s difficult to assess which parts of the state suffer the most.

Cienki said that among the state’s 31 federally funded primary care centers, about 70 percent of patients have some sort of mental health problems.

To counter budget shortages, Cienki said community partnerships among primary care centers and CMHs or other health organizations can get more resources to people.

“Our patient populations are very similar,” she said. “Some new, developing facilities are planning to have mental health services.”

One example is Heart of the City Health Center set to open in Grand Rapids in June. The project is a collaboration of Cherry Street Health Services, Touchstone Innovare and Proaction Behavioral Health Alliance and will provide mental health and medical care to underserved patients.

Gross said the health center is a promising model of a facility that aims to care for people whom CMHs can’t cover.

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