Michigan Health Endowment Fund Partners with Altarum to Evaluate Behavioral Health Access for Michigan Residents

August 21, 2018

Lansing, MI — People living with mental illness or addiction die an average of 25 years earlier than the general population, yet many Michigan residents face barriers to critical treatment. The Michigan Health Endowment Fund (Health Fund) has commissioned a study to review and report on access to mental health and substance use disorder treatments for Michigan residents.

The Health Fund has contracted with Altarum to assess available data from every county in Michigan, identify service gaps, and make recommendations for public investment that can help more residents access life-saving treatments. The Health Fund expects the report to be complete by spring of 2019.

The study is evaluating access along several lines, including whether or not a person has insurance coverage or can afford to pay for services; the availability and cultural competency of practitioners; and the proximity or transportation options for physically getting to a service location.

“A service might exist in a county or metropolitan area, but that doesn’t mean everyone in the region has access to it,” explained Senior Program Officer Becky Cienki, who directs the Health Fund’s Behavioral Health Initiative. “If there are language barriers, or the available providers don’t participate in either Medicare or Medicaid, then effectively that patient doesn’t have access to that service.  We also know there are many areas of the state with significant behavioral health workforce shortages.”

The study will include individuals with mild, moderate, or serious mental illness, substance use disorders or co-occurring disorders. The study will also specifically analyze access for the Health Fund’s two priority populations, children and older adults, as subsets of analysis regarding the broader population. 

The goal of the study is ultimately to guide policy and investments around Michigan’s mental health system. The study will complement ongoing work at the State level around inpatient psychiatric services and medication-assisted treatment to help provide a fuller and more detailed view of how Michigan residents are or are not accessing critical healthcare.

“The Health Fund’s support will enable us to produce a comprehensive assessment of access to behavioral health care across the state, and to determine where additional public investment may be needed,” says Emily Ehrlich, project lead and deputy director of Altarum’s Center for Behavioral Health.

The Health Fund has committed more than $250,000 to conduct the study and produce a report, and is leaving open the possibility of a “phase 2” to fill in data gaps that emerge during the initial scope of work. As Cienki explained, the Health Fund is “committed to understanding the big picture of behavioral health access as well as granular needs of communities within Michigan.”


About the Michigan Health Endowment Fund

The Michigan Health Endowment Fund is a foundation working to improve the health and wellness of Michigan residents and reduce the cost of health care, with a special focus on children and older adults.  Learn more at mihealthfund.org.

Altarum is a nonprofit organization that works with federal and state agencies and foundations to design and implement solutions to improve the health of individuals with fewer financial resources and populations disenfranchised by the health care system. We achieve measurable results by combining our expertise in public health and health care delivery with technology, workforce training and continuing education, applied research, and technical assistance. Our innovative solutions lead to better health for beneficiaries and better value for payers.