Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services plans to pursue new partnerships around the state in 2017. CEO Mark Eastburg wants to create a network of hospitals and care providers that contract with the Grand Rapids-based Pine Rest to provide and manage their behavioral health care services. That strategy follows a model that Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital has used effectively to reach out from its home base. Pine Rest has 17 outpatient clinics — 15 in West Michigan and two in Iowa — plus inpatient and residential facilities. The nonprofit employs about 1,900 people and serves 45,000 clients annually.
What’s your priority for 2017?
We’re going to be all about access to care and solving the access problem in West Michigan and the larger Michigan community through partnerships. That is what we see as the best way to fulfill our mission. We’re looking at the news in health care about long waits for behavioral health services. The common theme in all of these headlines is the lack of access to really good behavioral health services. We’re going to be focused on that in the next several years and our intention is to do that through collaborative partnerships.
Who do you see as potential partners?
Any organization that is open to that kind of partnership, especially the medical systems in our community. And we have a good relationship with all of them. Our goal is to help them fulfill their mission of providing outstanding care by us coming alongside and adding value to their services and their continuum. Behavioral health needs appear all over the West Michigan community. A lot of times they show up when people are in the medical system, so part of the fulfillment of our mission is to partner with medical systems.
What’s playing into your favor heading into the new year?
We have a lot of momentum around our residency program. We have about 1,200 applicants right now for about 12 slots that we have next year. There’s growing interest in these young professionals coming to West Michigan, training in West Michigan, hopefully living in West Michigan and building a career here. I also see that collaboration in the West Michigan medical system is alive and well, despite maybe conventional wisdom. We’re seeing all sorts of interest in collaboration. So that’s a wind in our sails.
What’s your biggest opportunity?
The value-add of digital technology: tele-psychiatry, tele-therapy — access that can really enhance care in between sessions and visits. All of these things can help solve the access problem.
What causes you to worry these days?
I lay awake at night worrying about people not getting behavioral health care, thinking about what the obstacles are and trying to solve them. That might mean finding the right kind of collaborative relationships. That might mean having enough clinicians. It might also mean insurance is a big part of that with the changes in the Affordable Care Act, and nobody knows what the implications of that are.
We’re seeing more attention to bringing together medical care and behavioral health. Do you see that accelerating and growing in 2017?
That’s going to grow stronger for clinical reasons and financial reasons. When caregivers are talking to each other, when they’re working closely together, when you’re getting people from different specialties caring for people in an integrated way, the patient wins and the community wins. There are a lot of models out there on how to do that well, and we’ll be participating in many of those. There will be only growth on that front — integrating care.
What advice do you have for President-elect Trump and Congress on what to do with the Affordable Care Act?
What’s important is to continue to look at behavioral health needs in parity with other medical conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. These needs are real and need to be part of any final solution around coverage that our leaders are developing.
What’s one prediction for 2017?
We’re going to see a surge in the amount of care delivered through digital technologies. Increasingly, more and more health care will be digital.