Behavioral Health Planning Initiative in the Northern Michigan Community Health Innovation Region (NMCHIR)


In Northwest Michigan, behavioral health provider shortages, stigma, and other barriers required urgent cross-sector action. Stakeholders agreed: no more data was needed—but lacked a clear strategy to engage the community around increasing access and improving behavioral health outcomes for residents.


Leaders at the Health Department of Northwest Michigan and NMCHIR leveraged social capital to build momentum and recruit hundreds of participants for regional, virtual community summits. Each summit resulted in concrete actions as well as further recruitment, ultimately leading to a series of short-term wins, expanded community participation, and sustainable improvements to behavioral health access.

Key Outcomes

  • 120+ organizations (from schools and the justice system to hospitals and health plans) currently participate in summits and action committees. Each session recruits dozens of additional community members and organizations eager to participate in the community-driven solution. This relay-team approach enhances morale and encourages flexibility.
  • The planning and action year led to further investments from local philanthropy and State of Michigan resources that resulted in the implementation of key priorities from action committees.
  • The ability to quickly update the blueprint and move to action continues to sustain the project and builds on the momentum from the community to enhance regional behavioral health services.

Project Summary

Like many regions across the state, Northwest Michigan lacked a consistent and comprehensive strategy to engage the community around improving behavioral health access. Local sentiment and needs assessments highlighted provider shortages, stigma, and other barriers that required action across many sectors in the community. NWCHIR had been developing a blueprint based on data, best practices, and input from organizations and residents throughout a ten-county region.

Stakeholders understood the ongoing health challenges and the community agreed no more data was needed. The goal was to move toward urgent solutions to address the unfolding behavioral health crisis in the region. NWCHIR and their partners needed dedicated resources to help shift from collective planning to collective action.

This project aimed to increase collaboration among providers, service agencies, community-based organizations, and residents to address behavioral health issues in a sustainable way. Together, partner organizations organized community summits, which attracted hundreds of participants and led to action committees with concrete and short-term action steps and wins.

With expert facilitation routed in the Technology of Participation model, the community has successfully planned and implemented projects ranging from a website for social work internship placements to an extensive provider burnout survey.
Several key elements that led to a successful project:

  • Existing social capital and connections to community organizations was essential to create the momentum for change. The Health Department and NMCHIR were trusted by the community and thus were well suited to facilitate framework conversations and evolve the plan in real-time.
  • In preparation for the summit, twelve community participants were trained in facilitation and guided action committees to realistic and achievable short-term goals. As one action team achieved its goals, another would organize to fill the gap and address a different community-identified barrier. Participants self-selected action committees based on expertise and interests.
  • Elevating the voice of the target population was a central theme of the work and action committees. Participants in the summits spanned ages, races, and identities. For example, the experiences of youth facing behavioral health challenges were highlighted in video, multi-media, and art through Photo Voice and shared broadly to highlight the struggles of youth in the area.

This multisector, collaborative project exemplifies the importance of fast-paced movement to address community problems. Finding the right group or individuals to lead a project, the right approach or philosophy to facilitate conversations, and the right moment for action can evolve into lasting community solutions.


Lead Organization
Health Department of Northwest Michigan

Partner Organization
Northern Michigan Community Health Innovation Region (NMCHIR) and network of 120+ organizations

Northwest Michigan: Antrim, Benzie, Charlevoix, Emmet, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau, Manistee, Missaukee, and Wexford counties


One year

Total Budget

Health Fund Investment

Pin It on Pinterest