Confronting Mental Health, Poverty And COVID-19 In Wayne County

Editor’s Note: For submission inquiries contact Bankole Thompson the editor-in-chief and dean of The PuLSE Institute at

By Eric Doeh

Interim President and CEO, DWIHN

We are living in an unprecedented time in global history. The trials we’ve endured over the past year and a half have pushed us to our limits. Yet, we’ve remained resilient and continued to display genuine care for all of humankind. Still, for many people living in Michigan, more specifically, those living right here in Wayne County, the disparities in access to healthcare are all too real and continue to be an everyday challenge. 

Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network (DWIHN) serves over 75,000 Wayne County residents in need of mental health and substance use disorder services.  Last year, even under the constraints of a global pandemic, over 200,000 men, women and children received behavioral health services through DWIHN. While this is admirable, we can do more.

We must do more. 

Wayne County has a population of approximately 1.7 million people. Certainly, there are many more people who need behavioral health services, now more than ever. We have a responsibility to reach all who are in need. We can do more. We must do more. 

While DWIHN is committed to increasing outreach and access to mental health services for all of Wayne County, it is undeniable that the more than 285,000 school children must be a large priority. DWIHN served over 85,000 children last year. However, it is likely that thousands more can benefit from the services we offer. We are committed to expanding our services and working with our community partners. We all can do more.

As an integrated behavioral health organization and the county’s behavioral health safety net, we are constantly developing innovative ways to reach vulnerable citizens who need our services, but simply don’t know where to turn.  One of the many lessons that COVID–19 has taught us is that we must reach people where they are. DWIHN partnered with Wayne Health and Ford X, to provide mobile outreach clinics.

These clinics offer both physical and behavioral health resources to people in their neighborhoods. Clinicians and nurses are providing vaccinations, blood pressure checks, as well as mental health assessments, connecting people to resources, on the spot, right in their community. Since July, outreach has been provided at almost 20 different sites and over 100 people have benefited from receiving behavioral health information and resources.

Also, as a safety net, we know that keeping community mental health in the community is imperative.  When we provide services to an individual, we serve the entire person.  We seek to solve social determinant factors that others ignore, or are simply not part of their business plan. We are not risk averse. Where others run from risks, we seek risk. We welcome those challenges that others develop risk corridors to avoid. We must do more to help our community.

In addition to designing programs and access to services around the delivery of care for an individual, community mental health examines ways and execute plans to address the mental health, physical health, social challenges, access to housing, employment, spiritual connection and strengthening the family unit. We are not only concerned about an individual scheduling an appointment, we go above and beyond to ensure they have access to transportation and food to eat.

Prior to COVID-19, approximately 1.7 million Americans faced food insecurity compared to an estimated 1.9 million (of which 552,400 are children) as a result of the pandemic.[1] Poverty also remains a constant challenge for many adults and children living in Wayne County. 

In Detroit, about half of kids ages 0-17 live in poverty, though the rate declined from almost 54% to a little more than 47%. We must do more.

The U.S. Census indicates that in 2019, the poverty rate in Michigan was approximately 13% while the poverty rate in Wayne county was 19.8%. DWIHN providers took immediate action to ensure children remained safe and engaged by performing wellness checks and delivering homework to children. 

This is not enough.  We must do more. 

The disparity in access to healthcare became more apparent when COVID-19 first struck Wayne County in March 2020, and in the months following. The county’s African American and low-income communities experienced an astounding number of positive cases and deaths.

In April 2020, in Wayne County excluding Detroit, more than 54,000 people tested positive and more than 1,700 died. In Detroit, more than 25,000 people tested positive and approximately 1,699 people died during that same period of time.

Now that the vaccine is widely available, there has been a high premium placed on educating people about the value of the vaccine. This is certainly reasonable considering COVID-19 remains a real threat to the health and safety of all. But let us not forget to put that same high premium on preventive healthcare services, eliminating health disparity and mental health stigma.

We can’t continue to only spread the good news about the vaccine and ignore the fact that folks are hungry and experiencing less than ideal living conditions. We must invest in the whole person. An investment in the lives of people pays unending dividends for the community as a whole. 

DWIHN is committed to serving and investing in the lives of the people of Wayne County.  In order to continue to do this at the highest level, we seek partnerships and collaborations with others who will share in our commitment. We may not have all of the answers, but together, we will not fail. With the help of DWIHN’s Board of Directors, our Provider Network, our stakeholders and our advocacy partners, we pledge to do more because we must. We must do more.

Eric Doeh is the Interim President and CEO of the Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network www.dwihn.orgHe is a former Assistant U.S. Attorney and Wayne County Prosecutor. He can be reached at

[1] 1 Gundersen, C., A. Dewey, E. Engelhard, M. Strayer, & L. Lapinski. Map the Meal Gap 2020: A Report on County and Congressional District Food Insecurity and County Food Cost in the United States in 2018. Feeding America, 2020 [updated projections for 2020.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.