MDHHS Reorganizes to Better Coordinate Behavioral Health Services – Status of Reform

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The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) restructure accountability and administration to improve the coordination of behavioral health services in the state. MDHHS says the realignment will ensure behavioral health services are supported for adults and children in community and residential settings.

Farah Hanley, the new deputy chief health officer, said the realignment aims to “better prepare for high performing aid providers and helping the community”.

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Since the start of the pandemic, behavioral health has been one of the biggest health care issues in the state, ranging from a increased demand for services to reform legislation. Hanley says MDHHS has been forced to be “reactive” in handling this demand for behavioral health services.

“The reorganization was developed in order to help us be more proactive and not constantly reactive,” says Hanley. “We have now paid more attention to behavioral health. It strengthens policy and surveillance and improves coordination.

Hanley also highlights the workforce challenges shortages in the state. She says the old MDHHS organization did not allow the department to bring in the experts to address these issues around the workforce and expand access to care.

“The past few years have been difficult, especially for our children, and it’s so important that we do everything we can to support the Michiganders who have struggled. This is why I am committed to improving behavioral health services, especially for children,” Governor Gretchen Whitmer said.

“The changes announced today will leverage the expertise, resources, and ongoing work across the department to improve behavioral health. I am grateful for the hard work of MDHHS to meet the needs of Michiganders and provide more oversight and resources to children, youth and families in Michigan.

The reorganization will place Hanley in charge of the new Behavioral and Physical Health and Aging Services and State Hospital Administration. She will oversee Medicaid, services for aging adults, community services for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, serious mental illness and substance use disorders.

Hanley says this will build on MDHHS’ efforts to provide services to adults with mild to moderate illness as well as those with severe mental illness under one administration. She says this improves communication between providers and allows for the centralization of adult behavioral health services.

The reorganization will also create the Bureau of Children’s Coordinated Health Policy and Supports led by David Knezek. This administration hopes to improve and build upon the coordination and oversight of children’s behavioral health services and policies within the framework of a specific agency.

Knezek says it gives families and providers a direct line in the department and improves communication about children’s behavioral health needs from the point of delivery to the state. He calls this realignment “the first piece of the puzzle” for improving access to quality care for children.

Finally, MDHHS is moving substance abuse and gambling prevention programs to the Office of Health and Wellness in the Division of Chronic Diseases within the Public Health Administration.

“Everyone deserves access to behavioral health care where and when they need it,” said Elizabeth Hertel, director of MDHHS. “Everyone should have the same experience – services that can change or even save lives – no matter where they live and no matter where they turn for help.

This change will help us coordinate resources more effectively and establish a single voice regarding physical and behavioral health policy. It will also help provide more support for providers, strengthen policies to make them more effective, create consistency in access, and ultimately improve outcomes for children, families, and adults.

Hanley says the reorganization better aligns MDHHS administration to improve responsiveness to higher demands for behavioral health services. “It helps us be more agile in our responses,” says Hanley. “It helps us get people where they need to be.”

The new structure will come into effect on Monday, March 21. The ministry will retain current staff positions as part of the restructuring.

Hanley will talk more about this reorganization during our 2022 State of Michigan Reform Health Policy Conference April 21 in Lansing.

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