Karl Kovacs is new CEO

Mental health CEO reflects on four decades with organization

From CADILLAC NEWS  1/13/15 by Jeff Broddle – The New Year brought a new CEO to Northern Lakes Community Mental Health, although former leader Greg Paffhouse will stay on in a consulting role for at least the immediate future.

Since Jan. 1, 2015, Karl Kovacs has been leading the organization. He has Master’s Degrees in social work and business administration. Kovacs, who came to the mental health field as a consultant to the Bureau of Mental Health Services for the state of Michigan, praised Paffhouse for assisting in the transition.

“It’s great to have Greg as a coach and mentor,” Kovacs said.

Paffhouse is staying on as a consultant for three months to assist in the transition. After that, he doesn’t intend to retire, but he may continue to consult and perhaps teach. He will definitely spend more time with family.

Paffhouse has been with the organization since 1976, back when their modest offices were in a house on Chapin Street.

At that time, many mental health services were provided in state institutions. Paffhouse’s career has taken place over much of the shift from institutional care to community-based care.

An example is Club Cadillac, which provides support for adults with mental illness. Community Mental Health also has residential homes for individuals with intellectual disabilities.

The organization services six counties: Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Grand Traverse, Crawford and Leelanau.

More recently, the organization has focused on integrated care and treating patients both for mental and physical ailments. Paffhouse noted that people with mental illness or addictions tend to live 25 years less on average than members of the general public.

Part of that focus on general health is the addition of outpatient primary care at the Traverse Health Clinic within their Traverse City building.

In Cadillac, a professional works half days at Great Lakes Family care, where she can assess patients for mental or behavioral needs and coordinate care with physicians.

Last year, NLCMHA began a collaborative project with University of Michigan known as Michigan Child Collaborative Care. The project allows local pediatricians and others to quickly consult by video link with a child psychiatrist about issues such as autism and thought disturbance.

Over the past 39 years, Paffhouse has seen mental health services become decentralized from state hospitals to community mental health systems such as NLCMH. There also has been a switch in funding, from primarily state and local sources, to Medicaid, which currently provides as much as 75 percent of their budget.

Looking ahead, they will continue to integrate physical care with mental health care, despite funding challenges. In 2014, NLCMHA spent more than $60 million in the six counties it serves, in spite of losing as much as $5 million in support combined from Medicaid and the state general fund.

“The passion hasn’t gone away though,” Paffhouse said. “We have people who really believe in what they do.”