Photo Provided - Cameron Bullock was hired as the new CEO of Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services of St. Joseph County in May, beginning his tenure in June.

Bullock looks to expand CMH's visibility as new CEO

CENTREVILLE — In the past couple of months since he was named as CEO of Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services of St. Joseph County (CMH), Cameron Bullock has begun to settle into the job.

He says it’s been a “fun adventure” to be the CEO, taking each day as a learning experience.

“I think the best part so far has been all the different learning opportunities. I've worked here for four years, and of those four years I thought I knew quite a bit of the admin portion, but there's still so much more out there I'm constantly learning, there's more that's constantly coming down from the state and changing, so it's never a dull day,” Bullock said. “That's what I enjoy most; each day brings a new challenge, and we have a great team, a great staff, and they're able to help us meet those challenges, and it's fun to navigate that puzzle.”

The 33-year-old Bullock began his role as CEO in June, following the retirement of former director Kristine Kirsch. He was previously the Chief Financial Officer of the organization and a compliance officer, and has been with CMH since 2018 following over a dozen years at Sturgis Hospital in a number of different capacities, from phlebotomy and x-rays to emergency clerking.

He holds an associate’s degree in radiology and a bachelor’s degree in healthcare system administration from Ferris State University, both of which he received in 2011, and a Masters of Business Administration with a focus in leadership from Trine University, which he received in 2016. Bullock said he always wanted to be a healthcare administrator or a CEO, but not necessarily at CMH.

“In my mind, I always wanted to be a CEO. I originally thought it was going to be a hospital facility, so that's why I got my bachelor's and associates the way I did. I got the associates because I enjoyed radiology, and I got the bachelor's because I knew I wanted to move up in the hospital,” Bullock said. “When I was working in the hospital, I realized that I needed an additional degree to advance to where I wanted to be.”

However, he said in his later years working at Sturgis Hospital, he was “unhappy” with how things were going over there, and was “unable to make the changes I wanted to make there,” so he decided to make a change.

“I figured in order for me to grow and advance I needed to get myself out of my comfort zone,” Bullock said. “I worked with Kris [Kirsch] before at Sturgis Hospital, so I knew her from there. I shadowed for a day, saw what things were like, and had an on-the-spot interview and they accepted me.”

In the few months he has been CEO, Bullock has tried to expand the visibility of the organization and communicating with the public about what CMH offers, which he said the organization has not done well in the past.

“If you were to come off the street and be like, hey, I need help, but I don't know what you guys offer, there's not an avenue for people to say we offer outpatient for SUD, you offer peer support, offer all of these things. There's not really this educational guide to help people in SJC know what resources we have available,” Bullock said.

One of the biggest things Bullock is touting is CMH’s status as a demonstration site for a Certified Community Behavioral Health Centers (CCBHC) model, one of 14 such sites in the state of Michigan. Bullock said the agency received that designation last October, and one of the biggest things it allows CMH to do is see patients that have traditional insurances, not just Medicaid as they had in the past.

“CCBHC requires us take anybody regardless of insurances, and the flood gates are wide open. That's part of the education process, because people are like, ‘I don't have Medicaid, I can't see you,’ that doesn't matter anymore,” Bullock said.

However, the main goal of being a CCBHC, Bullock said, is to “bridge the gap” between mental health and physical health in a number of different ways.

“We've worked closely with primary care physicians to make sure if, say, they went to the hospital for appendicitis, we'll get an alert, we'll call and check on the client, make sure they're doing okay and if they need any resources between that follow-up portion afterward. The hospitals are still doing them; we're not taking over for the hospitals. We're just adding in another component to say, hey, we're just checking on you, are there things we can do, are you doing okay,” Bullock said.

“By treating them and treating the whole entire self, they have better outcomes, and they have better outlooks on how things are going. We have seen reductions in ER visits because of what we're doing, which saves taxpayers money. There are multiple things CCBHCs are capable of serving and following up on that help reduce the cost and burden to taxpayers, but also increasing the patient outcomes, which is the most important part. But by having those positive outcomes, you're reducing the actual amount of money you're having to spend to keep these people healthy.”

Bullock said having these mental health services available is of paramount importance, because mental health in general has importance to him and the agency.

“I think mental health is the number one thing in Michigan that we're seeing the biggest news stories on – mental health isn't being treated appropriately, substance use disorders are increasing and skyrocketing. It's not just SJC, it's not Kalamazoo, it's not Detroit, it's every county in Michigan,” Bullock said. “We're noticing that what we've been doing in the past isn't necessarily working and we're going to need to think outside the box and apply more resources to be able to help serve people not only where they're at, but what they need.”

Part of that thinking ‘outside the box’ is the recent decision to open satellite locations for CMH in Three Rivers and Sturgis. Three Rivers’ site is currently slated to be placed at 1020 Millard St., while the Sturgis location is looking to be placed at 1550 E. Chicago Rd. in Sturgis, in the plaza that includes the Medical Commons Pharmacy.

Bullock said there were a number of reasons why CMH decided to go for satellite locations, including concerns about reliable transportation for patients and insurance issues.

“At one point, we reduced everything to be in Centreville, because that's where all the resources were, it was easier, we had all the space available, and it just worked better for the agency and, at the time, our clients. As we're finding out, our clients are having bigger and bigger issues with transportation; insurances aren't able to get people there, they don't have reliable transportation themselves, and that's part of the reason why I've worked on getting the locations in each city,” Bullock said. “By creating a location that serves as a mini-satellite facility, basically do everything a CMH can do, just in Sturgis and Three Rivers, we've removed that barrier to clients being able to receive those services.”

Another program Bullock has been in the process of expanding as CEO is having a therapist traveling with the Sturgis Police Department. Started under Kirsch’s leadership, the program has a therapist go on calls with officers to help with people who might be suffering from mental health or substance use disorder (SUD) problems. The program is similar to others that have been trialed in some cities across the country.

Bullock said when he went on a listening tour of the county recently, officers from Sturgis Police Department told him that the therapist placed in the agency “dramatically reduced” the amount of people they’ve had to do repeat calls on.

“They're able to get those people services that they maybe originally weren't able to get, because they didn't have police officers to know that resource was available. We were able to get people into services that needed them but never knew how to access them,” Bullock said.

“Police officers will admit that they're not trained for mental health crises, so having someone that's able to help them sort those situations out and get them help prior to them going to jail, prior to them going to court, is a benefit for our county just in general. It's things of those nature that we're continuing to look at to re-assess and figure out what else we can do.”

He said the Three Rivers Police Department has shown interest in the program as well, and once the CMH budget gets approved – the board met Tuesday night to consider the budget – he is looking to put out a job posting for the position by the first part of October.

In the future, Bullock said he wants to see CMH continue to expand to meet the needs of what the people in St. Joseph County need. While it may change from year to year, he said he uses resources available to help meet those needs.

“You take a look at the community needs assessment; we use it to help guide what we need. Sometimes it's housing, and that's nothing we can help out with, sometimes it's daycare, and we can't help out with that. But we look at it, and say, okay, out of the Top 10, here's what can apply to mental health, and these are things we can help out with,” Bullock said. “I use those resources and that data to make sure our organization is able to support what our communities need.”

Overall, between his vision for CMH going forward and the programs he wants to implement, Bullock is bullish on the future of the agency.

“I think there's so much our agency can do to help people in this county, and I think with us having the additional resources that we're getting from the state, and by being a CCBHC demonstration site, I think you're going to see there's a lot of things we're doing differently that we couldn't do before,” Bullock said. “I'm hoping CMH becomes the community resource I believe it can be, or already is. There's a wealth of stuff here that I don't think people know about, and part of my job is to make sure people know about it and make sure we're equipped to be able to serve the community that I feel CMH is supposed to.”

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 22 or robert@threeriversnews.com.

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