New non-profit seeks to address gaps in mental health service
HOUGHTON — A new nonprofit in Houghton is looking to help connect people with the mental health professionals they need.
Unite Mental Health and Wellness opened earlier this year. It is located at the former College Avenue Vision Clinic building.
Co-founders Angela Price and Beth Shannon have known each other since childhood. They come to the mental health area from different backgrounds. Price, who was most recently the chief financial officer at Finlandia University, worked as an accountant for PricewaterhouseCoopers before opening her own consulting firm. There, she worked with health care companies and helped analyze their systems to find where improvements could be made.
Shannon has worked in local school systems as a substitute teacher and as a mental health support person, and holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology with an emphasis in counseling and is planning on getting a master’s degree in counseling in the future. On a more personal level, she was motivated by her experience navigating the mental health system on behalf of family. Shannon recalled traveling to facilities eight hours away, where the provider wanted her to stay for six weeks while the family member got treatment.
“It’s the person that knows what the experience should be and a person who works on systems,” Price said. “We’re completely different in our skill sets, but it works perfectly for what we’re trying to do.”
Unite seeks to walk people through an often frustrating path to finding the right mental health services.
It will also offer office space for health professionals, and also take care of administrative tasks such as billing and scheduling. Through its electronic health records system, Unite will coordinate with primary care physicians in a manner that protects the patients’ privacy.
For services that aren’t available locally, patients will be able to come in and use private telehealth rooms where they can connect with providers elsewhere. Where providers might have asked families to stay hundreds of miles away for weeks at a time, telehealth could provide a better way for psychiatrists to stay connected for follow-ups. By networking with remote providers, Unite can also bring in assistance in areas such as particular anxiety disorders where there isn’t a specialist locally.
“A general care physician has a wide range of knowledge, but not as detailed in a specific thing,” Shannon said. “We’re bringing in specialists that have more knowledge about a specific thing you might be struggling with.”
Over the next six months, Price said, they hope to work with some of the biggest psychiatric sites such as the Mayo Clinic, University of Michigan and Michigan State University.
“Usually you go, let’s say, downstate, and they want you to stay down there for months at a time,” Price said. “Well, that’s not really feasible. But what if they could go down there for a week and then come back here and come into our office and have that environment that the psychiatrist is comfortable with?”
A psychologist with a Ph.D., has also been lined up for telehealth access, Price said. Shannon and Price are working to vet all providers to make sure they’re reputable and credentialed.
In addition to telehealth rooms, the office has space for patients and providers to meet, as well as group meetings. On the west side of the building, there are spaces available for individual wellness providers.
One provider is active so far, Price said, with another in-service provider coming in within the next month and a half.
They have more ideas for what they’d like to add over the next months and years.
“There are a lot of steps to take in getting there,” Shannon said. “But we just want people to know that we’re here, what we’re offering and where we’re at now. Being a nonprofit, we’ve been self-funded. We really can’t do it without the help of the community, volunteers, and patients. It takes a village to do these things.”
Unite is raising funds on its website for items such as the implementation of the health records system, signage and renovation costs. The Barbara Kettle Gundlach Shelter has also been instrumental in providing early help for things like furnishings, Price said.
Unite is holding an open house at its office at 1014 College Ave. from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For more information, go to unitewellness.org or call 906-523-7064.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated from its original version to clarify Beth Shannon’s background and her reasoning for helping found Unite Mental Health and Wellness.