LifeWays takes a whole person-centered care approach to health care

LifeWays, a Community Mental Health Services Program and Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCBHC) utilizes whole person-centered care for their patients in Jackson and Hillsdale counties. Person-centered care is integrated care served in a collaborative manner between patient and provider. Care is guided by the patients’ goals, preferences and values.

“The way that we promote life enhancing recovery is we take a person-centered approach and you'll see that in our values,” says Cassandra Watson, LifeWays’ executive director of clinical services. “We want them to say this is what recovery looks like to me. Each of us are individuals. That requires that we look at each person individually and develop their interventions and their goals specific to what they say the recovery looks like. A fulfilling life looks very different to me than what you might see as a fulfilling life for you.”

Cassandra WatsonLifeWays whole person-centered care approach allows its staff to link, monitor, and coordinate comprehensive services like case management within the environments where patients live. LifeWay’s community health workers (CHWS) perform social determinants of health screenings that help identify underlying issues contributing to a patient’s needs.

“How can a patient focus on seeking treatment for mental health if they don't even have food in their fridge, or if they’re electricity has been turned off? Our job may not be to provide those services directly but to connect individuals that seek services to the resources in their communities that would assist them," Watson says. "We also connect them with our provider network.” 

LifeWays has connections to over 40 providers that provide patients a variety of services, everything from community living supports and music therapy to applied behavior analysis and substance abuse services. 

“We have so many different types of providers that provide assertive community treatment, which is a very high intensity service,” says Watson. “We also have providers that provide community living supports, which is a lower intensity service, but it is a much more frequent and supportive service. It really depends on the needs have. We all different types of providers that sit in our network.”

Care for All

LifeWays operates with funds from both the State of Michigan and mental health millages approved by voters for both Jackson and Hillsdale counties.

“At the end of the year, money not used from the state goes back to the state, whereas the millage dollars stay in our community, stay with us,” Watson says. “We try to be very good stewards of those dollars.” 

Approved in 2017, the Jackson County millage provides LifeWays with $2 million a year. Approved in 2018, Hillsdale County’s mental health millage provides LifeWays with $639,004 a year. The funding also provides mental health supports to school systems, guardianship services, the county jails, and first responders. These millage dollars ensure that anybody can receive mental health care no matter their insurance status, age, or ability to pay. 

“We serve individuals with serious mental illness, substance use disorders, or intellectual and developmental disabilities who are underinsured or uninsured or who are just highly vulnerable individuals,” Watson says. “This CCBHC demonstration site status also allows us to serve individuals who are mildly to moderately mentally ill. So, it allows us to expand the populations that we serve, which results in folks walking through the right door every time versus having to be referred out.”

LifeWays brings whole person-centered care to residents of Jackson and Hillsdale counties.

The state is continuing its pursuits in expanding access to behavioral health care for Michigan families. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s FY2025 budget proposal includes $193.3 million to strengthen Michigan’s CCBHC demonstration program. Funds will be used to expand the number of CCBHC sites and establish more robust support, as well as oversight and monitoring. 

Since LifeWays is a CCBHC, it received a federal grant close to $4 million from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in 2021. This provided LifeWays with the ability to expand mental health and addiction treatment services. Medicaid is another source of funding.

“We receive funding through insurance reimbursement, so we do take private insurances as well,” Watson says. “That's part of our CCBHC expansion. That's a newer task that we're learning.”

Life-enhancing recovery

Michigan has over 30 CCBHCs providing access to mental health and substance use disorder care and provides that care much faster than the national average wait time of 49 days; LifeWays usually provides that care within a week or less. 

“It really just depends on the urgency of the request, the severity of the need, and then what kind of services we're working them into,” Watson says. “We want everyone seen for service within 14 days. We try to be pretty proactive in getting folks connected.”

LifeWays has two locations, one in Jackson at 1200 N. West Ave, and in Hillsdale at 25 Care Drive Hillsdale. If you, or somebody that you know is in a crisis and need immediate help, contact LifeWays crisis phone line at 1-800-284-8288 or the national crisis line at 988. 

Monique Bedford is an aspiring journalist, currently freelancing for Issue Media Group publications. She graduated from Oakland University in fall of 2022 with a bachelor's degree in journalism and a minor in Spanish. Monique has experience in solutions journalism, media design, and hosting a radio show. When she's not writing, you can always find her studying different cultures and languages, reading her favorite newspaper, The New York Times, and spending quality time with her friends and family.

Photos by Doug Coombe.
Cassandra Watson photo courtesy subject. 

The MI Mental Health series highlights the opportunities that Michigan's children, teens, and adults of all ages have to find the mental health help they need, when and where they need it. It is made possible with funding from the Community Mental Health Association of MichiganCenter for Health and Research TransformationLifeWaysMental Health Foundation of West MichiganNorthern Lakes CMH AuthorityOnPointSanilac County CMHSt. Clair County CMHSummit Pointe, and Washtenaw County CMH.

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