Push on for more children’s health centers

By DANIELLE WOODWARD

Capital News Service

LANSING — The Department of Community Health is pushing for a program that would expand health centers for poor children to also treat mental illness.

Department and child health center officials are pushing for a $2 million expansion of the program, which has been around for 25 years.

This expansion would create new health centers that offer individual and family counseling, screening for mental disorders and prevention services for suicide and bullying, according to department officials.

The centers would treat youth with disorders such as mild to moderate depression, high stress or anxiety, body issues and anger management. There are currently not many resources for those problems, said Carrie Tarry, manager for adolescent school health programs at the Michigan Department of Community Health.

Services would be for youth ages 5-21 who could not otherwise afford them. They would be provided with primary care services already offered at existing youth health centers.

“Primary care essentially includes a basic physical, blood tests, immunizations and basic urgent care needs for sick or injured children,” said Michele Strasz, executive director of the School-Community Health Alliance of Michigan, an organization that advocates for the youth health centers.

The organization is pushing for a restoration of the $1.2 million cut the center received in 2009, but asking for $2 million in hopes of providing the additional mental health services, Strasz said.

“In Michigan, the state general funds are Medicaid-matched 2:1 because we do that outreach,” Strasz said. “Right now we receive $3.5 million, and as a result of the matched funds we receive over $10 million to run these health centers.”

New health centers under the expansion would allow each one to reach multiple schools at a time and include mental health care at all of them.

“There would be a school-based health center that serves as a clinical hub for three to five surrounding satellite schools,” Tarry said.

Schools could choose to focus on primary care services, mental health services or both, based on what best fits their needs.

The clinical hub would manage the satellite schools and provide on-site primary, dental and behavioral services to children with parental or guardian consent.

“The centers are established because of grants from the state so that they can see any child that walks in the door, with or without insurance,” Strasz said.

They are required to bill insurance companies if the child has insurance, but if they do not have coverage or have a high co-pay, the center will take care of the cost, Tarry said.

“Mental health conditions in students are serious and services are scarce,” Tarry said. “You have to qualify with a very severe diagnosis to get help, and even then the co-pay is often very high.”

Elliot Attisha, board president of the School-Community Health Alliance said, “We see issues come up in kids on a daily basis so the importance of getting funding for this cannot be stressed enough.”

Attisha is also the medical director for Henry Ford Hospital’s mobile youth health clinic, Children’s Health Project of Detroit.

The mobile clinic serves Detroit schools that lack their own health centers.

If the budget gets passed, Henry Ford’s mobile youth health clinic may become part of the health department’s pilot, Tarry said.

“They are a key partner to us and we have several relations with them already because Detroit is one of the cities that needs these centers the most,” Tarry said. “There is a widespread agreement that we would have at least one major hub in Detroit. We are doing a very structured evaluation right now, but if it comes back we would consider expanding their mobile clinics.”

Henry Ford Hospital has six youth health centers in Detroit that are funded by the health department but the mobile clinic is not one of them, Attisha said.

However, the Children’s Health Project would still like to expand their mobile clinic to include mental health services.

“We are working to partner with a local agency that will help us address some of the mental health issues we see in patients in the mobile clinic,” Attisha said. “Ideally we would like to bring in our own mental health staff but we don’t have the funding for that alone.”

The health department is waiting to see if their funding request will have make it into the final budget which is expected to be determined by June.

Sens. Rodger Kahn, R- Saginaw and Rebecca Warren, Ann Arbor have been working closely with the School Community Health Alliance to push for the program’s state funding.

If they receive the funding, planning will be done during the summer so the health centers will be ready for the following school year, Tarry said.

“I am hopeful that it will get funded but nothing is for sure until the budget is finalized but it seems like there is a lot of support for it,” Tarry said. “The only issue is that this may not be as high on everyone’s priority list as it is ours but I don’t know of anyone that is against it.”

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