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News & Press: Legislation/Policy

NASW-MI: DHHS Rules Would Deplete Frontlines Against Opioid Crisis, Mental Illness

Friday, November 17, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Erik Fuller
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LANSING – This week, the Michigan chapter of the National Association of Social Workers blasted a proposed policy change by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) that would have a severe, detrimental impact on those working in health professions across Michigan.


The proposed policy would prohibit providers who have been convicted of certain crimes from receiving Medicaid funds come January 2018. The broad set of offenses include minor charges such as theft, drug possession, and prostitution, and could disqualify hundreds, or potentially thousands, of service providers like social workers and peer supporters from providing the necessary services to combat the opioid crisis and other substance abuse issues.


 “We know the best people to provide support to those with mental illnesses and those battling substance issues are people who have similar lived experiences,” said Allan Wachendorfer, director of public policy for NASW-Michigan. “DHHS recently said as much themselves in a flyer they distributed, so it is both baffling and concerning they are proposing this broad policy that will surely have negative consequences. It is important to protect our most vulnerable residents, but this is not the way.”


Earlier this week, the director of the Bureau of Community Based Services for the Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities Administration for DHHS sent a letter to the Medicaid Services Administration, who is proposing this policy change, with concerns about the potential impact. The director explained the policy would cause an employment barrier for those who follow an evidence-based practice of providing peer services and that, “beneficiaries served will be personally impacted by losing the choice of a peer provider.”

Many service providers agree: 


I am concerned this policy would discourage many people who have had interaction with the criminal justice system from taking that vulnerable step toward their future,” said Aaron Suganuma, a social worker who works with returning citizens. “I have faced judgement in court, background checks at jobs and schools, and extra scrutiny for licensing. The security and protections are already there. However, I’m afraid I would not be where I am today if this proposed policy were implemented and would needlessly shut out many other aspiring professionals.”


"We have spent many years building a support system for people entering recovery that relies on peers", said Debra Wright, social worker and program director of a local substance use program. "This could have a major impact on the field and leave people entering recovery without necessary support needed in early recovery."


DHHS is currently accepting public comment on the proposed policy until Monday, November 20th. The policy, along with contact information, can be found here. The letter NASW-MI sent to the department concerning the policy can be viewed here


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