Focus on Mental Health: An interview with providers, Part 4

Providers discuss how the region and state are addressing a lack of mental health resources in the UP.
If you're not struggling but know someone who is, don't pull away, be there the same way you would for someone with a physical ailment
Published: Sep. 1, 2022 at 11:34 AM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - What’s being done to address the shortage of mental health services in the Upper Michigan?

It’s a question we’ve asked and continue to ask on a number of levels.

In part 4 of our Focus on Mental Health, we hear from Dr. Mahar, a psychiatrist at UP Health System who also oversees the MIDOCS MSU psychiatry residents in the U.P.

It’s clear we need more —more funding, more therapists, more access. But the solutions, while they’re being put into play, will take time.

Elizabeth Peterson: For somebody that’s looking for care, that’s looking for help, it can be frustrating, and when you decide that you want to make that step to get help, any obstacle is going to feel like a brick wall.

Dr. Mahar: Yes, insurmountable.

Elizabeth Peterson: Exactly. What is happening here on our local level— and maybe on the state level as well— to address that and to come up with some solutions sooner than later?

Dr. Mahar: Like tomorrow, right? Or yesterday. In the UP in particular, I think there’s two levels of shortage or lack of access. One is that we just don’t have enough providers. And then there’s the geographic challenges. All of the providers that we do have are concentrated in a few small areas of the UP. Covid, in some ways you know, was a good thing. It opened up telehealth in a whole new way, and it really forced the system to adopt much more in the way of telehealth, so I think that has helped some. What are we doing about that?

For the first problem, which is lack of providers, one of the ways that it’s trying to be addressed is by training mental health providers in the underserved areas where we want them to practice, and the MIDOCS initiative through the state of Michigan is one of those efforts. What they are doing is funding residency training. Of course, we’re trying to stack the deck so that they’ll stay in the U.P. and provide some specific training around the needs of the U.P., so that is kind of one of the ways of increasing providers. We’ll get two every year while the program is in operation.

Another way that we’re trying to address the geographical challenges is by leveraging the providers that we do have the [in] UP across a greater distance and a bigger population. One of the ways that’s being done is by providing integrated care in primary care clinics in communities that are underserved and distant. And that involves the primary care office, an embedded behavioral health care manager, and a consulting psychiatrist who can be anywhere. And they can do that by telehealth.

But that enables a psychiatrist to help manage a population of patients that is much greater than they could by just seeing everybody individually, and it allows people to have their appointments in their own home community. It gets rid of the waiting times for appointments because the primary care doctor then has access to a consulting psychiatrist to help guide and provide evidence-based mental health treatment.

Doctor Mahar admits there are many other needs and services that are needed in the region. She stressed they are being worked on and the two examples she says are concrete programs that she believes will make a big difference - in time.