Northern Lakes Community Mental Health project will enhance services

by Dan Sanderson-Staff Writer, Crawford County Avalanche

Health officials are poised to step up efforts to help people with mental illness maintain healthier lifestyles as they are on their path to recovery with a new building and renovation project in Grayling.

The Northern Lakes Community Mental Health offices in Grayling, located at 204 Meadows Drive, are undergoing a renovation project and an addition is being added on the building.

The project, which is estimated to cost $740,000, is being funded through a capital improvement fund earmarked for building maintenance and additions. The project completion deadline is June 30.

The project was made possible once the District Health Department #10 moved to its new home at 401 Norway Street in December. The agencies shared space in the building, which was built by Northern Lakes Community Mental Health in the early 1990s. Crawford County officials    purchased the office building on Norway Street and made renovations for the Health Department last year.

Greg Paffhouse, the chief executive officer for Northern Lakes Community Mental Health, said having the added space will improve the services that mental health officials provide.

“It’s a win-win for us and the community,” he said.

An elevator has been added to the building, which will make the basement floor accessible for handicapped clients. The renovation will also provide more offices for staff who travel to Grayling to provide services.

A 2,800 square foot addition is being added to the building. The addition will feature a conference room for large meetings, which will also be available to other groups and organizations in Grayling.

“It will create a real valuable resource for the community,” Paffhouse said.

Northern Lakes Community Mental Health covers Crawford, Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Missaukee, Roscommon and Wexford Counties.

Once the addition project is complete, personnel will be available to offer expanded and enhanced services in Crawford County.

“We’re really going to be proud of this facility and it’s going to serve our needs a lot better,” Paffhouse said. “We want a welcoming environment. We want a place where people that we serve feel comfortable in and feel at home and it helps build relationships.”

Specifically, the addition project will house three clinic spaces, where primary health care providers will meet with clients as the Grayling Community Mental Health office moves toward providing integrated care.

People impacted by mental illness also suffer from preventable chronic illnesses like hypertension, diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease. Steps have been taken by mental health officials to help people they serve connect with primary care and improve their physical health. They have offered classes on wellness, health and the self management of chronic diseases such as Personal Action Toward Health (PATH) and  smoking cessation.

“Research shows that people with mental illness die 25 years before they should,” Paffhouse said. “We’re finding ways to help people lead healthier lives and providing access to primary care is critical.”

Having the primary care and mental health care providers located under the same roof will allow them to treat the whole person.

“They coordinate care better and they both know what’s going on with the care of a person and all of that is done under a person-centered plan,” Paffhouse said.

The building addition will also allow Northern Lakes Community Health to continue its partnership with the University of Michigan through the Michigan Child Collaborative Care Project. The project allows primary heath care providers improved access to child psychiatric care in under-served areas such as Crawford, Grand Traverse and Leelanau Counties.

Within two hours a phone or an e-mail consultation can be made with a University of Michigan child psychiatrist to address issues such as Autism or other behavioral issues.

“It’s a way for communities like ours to have high quality care that is consistent with the needs of the people,” Paffhouse said.

Education modules for the health care providers and discussion groups are also available online and quick access to a care coordinator helps connect children with local resources or child psychiatrists.

Northern Lakes Community Mental Health Family Specialist Sara Johnson will also continue to hold office hours in locations like the Mercy Physician Network. Johnson has been working with pediatricians such as Dr. Kristie Koehler and Dr. Valda Byrd to assist with child mental health issues early on. She provides case consultations, mental health assessments and links families, doctors and schools with resources.

“The convenience and timeliness gets people connected who may not otherwise seek out help,” Koehler said. “Sara helps people locate and connect to available resources, streamlining the process for families.”

Paffhouse said he was encouraged by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget proposal to expand Medicaid coverage for more Michigan residents as mental health officials are also preparing for changes with the federal Affordable Care Act.

“These are challenging times yet times for opportunity,” Paffhouse said. “Our responsibility is to embrace changes, yet to advocate what we know works and to support changes that we believe will create more opportunities for persons we serve and support and for our communities.”