MDHHS reorganizes to better coordinate behavioral health services


Patrick Jones


The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) will restructure responsibility and administration to improve coordination of behavioral health services in the state. MDHHS says the realignment will ensure that behavioral health services are supported for both adults and children in community-based and residential settings. 

Farah Hanley, the new chief deputy director for health, says the realignment aims to, “better set itself up to successful help providers, and help the community.”


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Since the start of the pandemic, behavioral health has been one of the biggest issues in health care in the state, ranging from an increase in demand for services to reform legislation. Hanley says that MDHHS has been forced to be “reactive” in handling this demand for behavioral health services. 

“The reorganization was developed in order to help us be more proactive and not constantly reactive,” Hanley says. “We have now brought more attention to behavioral health. It strengthens policy and oversight and improves coordination.” 

Hanley also highlights the challenges around the workforce shortages in the state. She says the old way MDHHS was organized did not allow for the department to draw from the experts to solve these problems around the workforce and expand access to care. 

“It’s been a tough few years, especially for our kids, and it’s so important we do whatever we can to support Michiganders who have struggled. That’s why I am committed to improving behavioral health services, especially for children,” said Governor Gretchen Whitmer. 

“The changes announced today will leverage the expertise, resources and work happening across the department to improve behavioral health. I am grateful for MDHHS’s hard work to respond to the needs of Michiganders and provide more oversight and resources for Michigan’s children, youth and families.”

The reorganization will put Hanley in charge of the new Behavioral and Physical Health and Aging Services and the State Hospital Administration. She will oversee Medicaid, services for aging adults, community-based services for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, serious mental illness, and substance use disorders. 

Hanley says this will build upon MDHHS’ effort to deliver services to adults with mild to moderate illness as well as those with serious mental illness under one administration. She says this improves communication between providers and allows for the centralization of adult behavioral health services. 

The reorganization will also create the Bureau of Children’s Coordinated Health Policy and Supports run by David Knezek. This administration hopes to improve and build upon the coordination and oversight of children’s behavioral health services and policies under a specific body. 

Knezek says this gives families and providers a direct line into the department and improves communication on children’s behavioral health needs from the point of delivery to the state. He calls this realignment “the first piece of the puzzle” to improve access to quality care for children. 

Lastly, MDHHS is moving substance use and gambling disorder prevention programs to the Bureau of Health and Wellness under the Division of Chronic Disease within the Public Health Administration. 

“Everyone deserves access to behavioral health care where and when they need it,” said MDHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel. “Everyone should have the same experience – services that can be life-changing or even lifesaving – no matter where they live and no matter where they turn for help.

This change will help us coordinate resources more efficiently and establish one voice regarding physical and behavioral health policy. It also will help give more support to providers, strengthen policies to make them more effective, create consistency in access and, ultimately, improve outcomes for children, families and adults.”

Hanley says the reorganization better aligns MDHHS administration to improve responsiveness to the higher demands for behavioral health services. “It helps us be more nimble with our responses,” says Hanley. “It helps us get people where they need to be.”

The new structure will be effective Monday, March 21. The department will retain current staff positions under the restructuring. 

Hanley will be speaking more on this reorganization at our 2022 Michigan State of Reform Health Policy Conference on April 21st in Lansing.