TRAVERSE CITY — Carol Goike turned to the Traverse Health Clinic for everything from medical care to vision and dental services after she lost her Lear job and the health benefits that went with it.
But it wasn't until after she suffered several other setbacks, including multiple health problems, the sudden death of her 34-year-old daughter and extensive damage to her Traverse City home, that Goike discovered the clinic's mental health counseling services.
"I went just to talk," said Goike, 61, who also cares for her disabled husband, Tom. "It was really just a matter of wanting to get this out, but your family doesn't want to hear about it all the time, and I can understand that. And sometimes it's easier to talk to a stranger."
Now the clinic, which serves uninsured and underinsured residents of Benzie, Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties, is increasing access to its mental health services with earlier intervention. The project is being funded by a nearly $50,000 grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.
"We already had a mental health program but this really allows us to expand," said clinic executive director Arlene Brennan. "And more so than expanding, it's to get people into services earlier to detect issues earlier and hopefully avert bigger issues down the road."
The free clinic has received general operations support from Blue Cross for years, Brennan said. But this is the second year it also won a competitive funding grant for a specific project. The clinic also received $15,000 in noncompetitive funding, bringing this year's total to $64,980.
"The Blues have had such a strong social mission to help people in need have access," she said, referring to the 53 free clinics the organization helps fund statewide.
Brennan said the clinic will use the larger grant to perform earlier mental health assessments on patients who receive health treatment to determine if they could benefit from counseling, and to send mental health professionals to the Goodwill Inn and to Safe Harbor locations to interact with clients who use those "safety nets."
"We have come to realize that integrating mental health with primary care and treatment for physical problems is very important," she said. "Our number one diagnosis is anxiety and depression. It's understandable. These people we work with have issues in their whole lives, not just diabetes. Add on top of that worry about trying to pay the rent, how am I going to drive to work if I'm lucky enough to have a job, how am I going to feed my family? So for us it makes sense to treat both areas simultaneously."
Research shows that integration of services is more cost effective, reduces how often people go to doctors and increases their satisfaction with their care, said Richard Sanok, the clinic's mental health program director and a licensed psychologist. Offering services in the same location -- from across the hall to the same exam room -- also results in higher patient follow-through than referrals to specialists elsewhere.
"We've become so specialized that we think we have to refer people to a specialist outside when what people really want is a medical home where they can access two or three services at the same time," he said.
Sanok said the nonprofit clinic's program has gone from treating one or two patients a week six years ago to 179 patients last year.
"Sometimes you just need to be able to unload," said Goike. "And that's what I used it for. It helped me to get things back in proper perspective: It's called 'life.' It's kept me able to go on without being overwhelmed."