Hundreds, likely thousands, of social workers, recovery coaches, peer supports, and other qualified treatment providers will be unable to work for any agency accepting Medicaid come January. The policy would bar anyone with a laundry list of misdemeanor and felony convictions. The list includes minor charges such as theft, drug possession, and prostitution.
The people who provide the best treatment and support to the mentally ill and/or people with substance abuse issues are often those who have faced similar challenges in life. For instance, peer recovery coaches are people who have done the hard work in their recovery programs, satisfied the terms of the courts, and are now using those lived experiences to make a significant impact on others with a similar story. It’s the people who have gone through the trials and tribulations to be in recovery that can best provide support for those struggling to do the same. This shared experience plays a key role in their ability to help that new person find a path to recovery.
MDHHS recently recognized the importance of these providers. Last week, I received a flyer that outlined what they were doing to address the opiate crisis. Two bullets state that “expanding the use of peer recovery coaches” and “providing support and treatment services for tribal members, prisoners, pregnant women and more” are ways MDHHS is fighting opioid addiction in Michigan. This policy would tragically take these same providers right out of the system.
To be clear, it is important that we protect vulnerable people and that may have been the intent of this proposal. However, as written, it is far too broad. There are already protections in place across the healthcare sector for our most vulnerable citizens. Agencies and licensure boards have strict policies that include criminal background checks to screen out potentially dangerous people. This policy would take that discretion out of the hands of treatment providers and those who know best by making sweeping changes, impacting the treatment workforce, public safety, and most importantly, the people that need treatment.
At least 10 percent of our entire workforce is in healthcare. Many jobs will be lost at a time when Michigan is supposed to be making a turnaround. The way the policy is worded, even workers like janitors and food service could be impacted.
I am calling on MDHHS and policy makers to rethink this. While it’s admirable to be thinking about more ways to protect our most vulnerable citizens, this policy will not accomplish that; it might instead take away the worker that could help them most.
Comments can be made to MDHHS until Monday, November 20, 2017.
The policy and contact information for comments can be found here.
NASW-Michigan's Letter can be found here. (feel free to borrow language)
An email template and easy way to send a message can be found here.
Allan Wachendorfer is the Director of Public Policy for the National Association of Social Workers - Michigan Chapter, a licensed social worker, and policy committee co-chair for Nation Outside: The Voice of Formerly Incarcerated People.