In the first year of the pandemic, 13.3 percent of people on Medicaid who went to a hospital emergency department had a mental health issue as their primary diagnosis.
That’s an increase from 10.9 percent from before the pandemic in 2019, and serves as another indicator of how mental health incidence rates have spiked since COVID-19 struck three years ago.
Addressing the rising incidence rates for mental illness, which were growing before the pandemic and have since accelerated, requires greater partnership between care providers, said Dr. Brandon Francis, a psychiatrist and chief medical officer at Trinity Health Grand Rapids, formerly Saint Mary’s Hospital.
The complexities of addressing behavioral health concerns require care providers to partner on solutions, Francis said.
“Think about this in the context of a group effort,” he said during a presentation at the annual health care outlook by Grand Valley State University’s Seidman College of Business.
“It’s all about partnerships,” he said. “There are so many opportunities in this space, but there are so many moving parts. We want to look at these moving parts and how they are connected to each other and recognize the fact that no one system can do this alone.”
Francis cited Trinity Health Grand Rapids’ efforts to increase access to mental health care, including developing a new 28-bed crisis stabilization unit at the main hospital campus in Grand Rapids in a partnership with Network 180 and a 98-bed psychiatric hospital in Byron Center with Pennsylvania-based Universal Health Services Inc.
The crisis stabilization unit is designed to provide a place for people with a mental health crisis to seek immediate care, rather than have them go to a hospital emergency room. Trinity Health and Network 180 hope to open the unit in the coming year, Francis said.
GVSU’s Health Check report offers an annual look at the state of health care in the region. Researchers this year noted an increase in the likelihood for the people surveyed to report poor mental health beginning with the pandemic, said Erkmen Aslim, an assistant professor of economics at the Seidman College of Business and co-author of the Health Check report.
According to the Health Check report, “mental health problems reached a new high during the first year of the pandemic” in West Michigan.
Depression diagnoses in the region increased 20 percent from 2020 to 2021, said Health Check co-author Daniel Montanera, an assistant professor of economics at the Seidman College of Business.
As well, the report’s authors found that expenditures to treat depression grew 5 percent from 2020 to 2021 in Kent, Ottawa, Muskegon and Allegan counties, according to an analysis of medical claims to insurers Priority Health and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.
To continue responding to rising incidence rates, Francis advocated for forging additional partnerships to improve access to mental health care, as well as better integrating mental health into primary care. He noted that half of the people in Kent County reported increased behavioral health needs during the pandemic.
Elizabeth Hertel, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said during the GVSU outlook that behavioral health remains a top state priority.
The Department of Health and Human Services has reorganized internally to “better collaborate on behavioral health needs and we’re supporting a number of budget investments.”
“I believe that everyone deserves access to behavioral health care when they need it, where they need it. As I travel around the state and I talk with doctors and nurses and health system administrators, I know that you are seeing patients who have serious behavioral health needs, so we are working really hard to address this challenge,” Hertel said. “We have an incredible opportunity right now, I believe, to improve access to behavioral health care, and this will continue to be one of my priorities.”
A state budget that legislators enacted and Gov. Whitmer signed last summer for the 2023 fiscal year included $565 million for mental health funding.
The appropriations included a $50 million earmark toward a $62 million, 88-bed pediatric center that Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services plans to develop in a partnership with Corewell Health’s Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. Targeted to start construction in 2024 at Pine Rest’s 68th Street Cutlerville campus, the new facility will include psychiatric urgent care, a crisis stabilization unit, and specialty outpatient clinics to prevent mental health crises for conditions such as depression, anxiety and eating disorders.
The state budget also directed $325 million for a new state psychiatric hospital in Northville to replace the aging 55-bed Hawthorn Center and nearly double capacity to 100 total beds. Other mental health allocations in the budget include $30 million to establish crisis units across the state, $50 million for competitive grants to expand pediatric psychiatric capacity across the state, $10 million to establish psychiatric residential treatment facilities, and $3 million for pediatric psychiatric services in Kalamazoo or Berrien counties.