MyMichigan Health is bringing accessible mental healthcare statewide

MyMichigan Health is aiming to bring accessible healthcare to patients across the state through its expanding Behavioral Health Therapy program. With locations in Mt. Pleasant, Alma, Clare, Gladwin, and West Branch, the program can reach patients who live in more rural areas as well.

Differing from traditional therapy in the time frame and manner in which it’s used to treat patients, behavioral therapy is often a short-term form of treatment that focuses on behaviors more so than an emotional state.

“In general, a lot of what we use is cognitive behavioral therapy, but we also use a lot of different kinds of other techniques. Problem-solving, therapy, behavioral activation, motivational interviewing — there are lots of different ways that we can go,” says Ashley Kain, behavioral therapist at MyMichigan Medical Center Mt. Pleasant.

For Kain, the behavioral therapy process begins with identifying the patient’s goals and what they want to gain from therapy then aligning the patient’s care based on that information.

"...It's important to look at the whole person and what their needs are, not just their medical care or their prescriptions, but everything that they might need and to get it all in one place,” says behavioral therapist Ashley Kain.

Andrew Gardner-Northrop, behavioral health therapist supervisor,  says one of the pivotal things about this program is that MyMichigan’s mental health services are now available right in the office of a patient’s primary care physician providing a consistent stream of communication between the physician, patient, and the therapist.

Andrew Gardner-Northrop, behavioral health therapist supervisor at MyMichigan Health.
“Patients like to be able to attend therapy sessions right in their primary care offices,” he says. “The primary care providers liked it because they had better access to therapists and their offices.”

There was such a high demand for behavioral therapy services in the mid and northern areas of Michigan that another therapist position was recently added to the Gladwin and West Branch areas.

“The further north you go, there's not as easily accessible resources or there might not be the resources in the same city, and so people have to travel further away,” Gardner-Northrop says. “So we're finding the more services that we can provide in primary care, the better for patients and providers.”

As that care becomes more accessible, it encourages people to seek out mental health services. Gardner-Northop says many people will call multiple offices with no success, and offering both primary and mental care services in one place can help patients transition easier.

“Since we are located right in their doctor's office where they come for routine medical care, our doctors really encourage it for people who are struggling with depression, anxiety, and various adjustment issues,” Kain says. “There's a wide variety of reasons they can refer, but they really encourage that.”

MyMichigan Medical Center Mt. Pleasant.

Coming out of COVID-19, Gardner-Northrop says mental health services have become an even more crucial part of everyday healthcare. Some people faced extreme levels of isolation and others experienced the loss of their loved ones. During the holidays, he says that can bring up a lot of stress and new family dynamics for people as well, which also creates the need for easy access to mental health services.

“In the winter months, we see our seasonal affective disorder start up, and so we're seeing kind of an increase in that just because of the season as well,” he says. “So it's kind of a mix of continued processing through pandemic operations, you could call it, as well as our kind of seasonal changes that we see.” 
Ashley Kain, behavioral therapist at MyMichigan Medical Center Mt. Pleasant.

Kain says the program has helped MyMichigan Health bring its many different departments together under one common goal: successful patient care. For example, one position that has been blended into this community of healthcare workers is the patient care manager. If a patient is facing a financial issue and needs help covering the cost of medication, the care manager can assist.

“The care manager wouldn't know about that if that wasn't identified first by the nurse or the physician,” Kain says. "That's why it's important to look at the whole person and what their needs are, not just their medical care or their prescriptions, but everything that they might need and to get it all in one place.”

MyMichigan Health already covers a broad area of the state, so when Gardner-Northrop thinks of expansion, his aim is focused on building upon current healthcare services. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, MyMichigan Health had begun exploring ways to offer telehealth services to their patients.

“We can provide therapy sessions remotely to patients, and that's very helpful for patients that have the connectivity to do that,” he says. “Group therapy is something that we weren't always doing that we're now trying to increase the availability for that.”

As this expansion continues and the need for behavioral therapy services continues, both Kain and Gardner-Northrop say MyMichigan Health will maintain their dedication to patient care and will continue to grow and expand along with the healthcare system.
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Read more articles by Riley Connell.

Riley Connell is a senior at Central Michigan University majoring in journalism and minoring in broadcast and cinematic arts. She has written for CMU's student-run publication Grand Central Magazine for two years and is now the editor-in-chief. After obtaining her degree, Riley would like to become a full-time feature writer. In her free time, Riley enjoys listening to music, trying new food, and collecting vintage clothing. She grew up in Metro Detroit and currently resides in Mt. Pleasant.