Centra Wellness Spearheads Collaboration and Integrated Care

Centra Wellness Network, a Northern Michigan healthcare provider, doesn’t believe that health care innovation only comes from state-of-the-art research facilities or sprawling hospital complexes. In fact, if you’d like a glimpse of the future of healthcare, just head to Manistee County, where integrative new approaches are quietly but dramatically changing how people receive care.

Since the 1960s, Centra Wellness Network, formerly known as Manistee-Benzie Community Mental Health, has been a safety net for people with severe and/or chronic mental illness, and intellectual or developmental disabilities, as well as for children with emotional disorders. With its team of 90 staff members, Centra Wellness offers services such as mental health treatment, school-based prevention services, crisis intervention, housing assistance and much more. But in an effort to stay at the forefront of the ever-evolving healthcare industry, the non-profit organization has chosen to go beyond the mandated services it provides.

To that end, Centra Wellness has teamed up with eight other healthcare provider systems across the region to form the Northern Michigan Healthcare Coalition with the intent to supply accessible, integrated healthcare services to area residents. The coalition’s goal is to make it easier for patients to navigate care, especially for interrelated health conditions, by combining various disciplines—primary care, mental health services, immunizations, dentistry, substance abuse services and more—into interconnected service systems.

Manistee Wellness Center, Centra Wellness’s home, is the first example of this kind of integrated care. “When a person comes in, he or she has one-stop shopping: to receive mental health care, to receive primary care, to receive substance abuse treatment, to receive labs and imaging,” says Ingemar Johansson, chief operating officer of Centra Wellness Network. “Four of our organizations are actually located in one place that has been designed with integration in mind and no physical barriers.”

Johansson says this all-inclusive approach is laying the framework for how other regional healthcare networks might function in the future. The goal, he says, is to improve the quality of all-encompassing care while maintaining a lower cost all in line with provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

“We wanted to serve the whole person,” he explains. “In most places, services are still segregated. Mental health professionals treat the mind; physical health providers treat the rest of the body. Dental care is also segregated. The insurances are different, too; one thing or another isn’t covered. It’s a fragmented system. But these health care providers aspire to provide services for an individual from top to bottom—from the head down to the toes.”

Part of what has made this evolution possible for Centra Wellness and the Northern Michigan Healthcare Coalition is that the region’s healthcare organizations have a long-standing tradition of openness, collaboration and communication. Johansson attributes much of that to the close-knit communities in the area. “We are all friends and neighbors,” Johansson says. “Living here, it’s easy to reach each other.”

Earlier in 2014, the State of Michigan chose Manistee County to test its Michigan Medicaid Health Home Pilot Project, a program for residents with severe mental health conditions who also have other chronic conditions such as lung disease, heart disease or diabetes. The program is in line with the coalition’s all-inclusive approach to care, but it also adds another element: care management, in the form of a nurse who coordinates all the care for each patient. Care management is nothing new in the world of physical healthcare, Johansson says, but it is revolutionary when it comes to mental health services. “We’re on the forefront of implementing this kind of care,” he says.

Even with its new name, new partnerships and new approaches to services, Centra Wellness prides itself on continuing to provide top-quality care for the region’s residents, as it has for half a century. From this rich foundation, Centra keeps moving forward, creating a new vision for health that someday we may see replicated all over the country. “It’s part of this whole evolution of health care in the United States, really,” he says. “Our aspiration is to be the model for rural health care in Michigan and beyond.”

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