Many Genesee County residents with developmental disabilities, mental illness, behavioral health issues, or substance use disorders depend on Genesee Health System
(GHS) for care. GHS also takes care of its employees. And for that, it has earned the Energage 2023 Top Workplaces USA award
. The award is made solely on the basis of employee feedback.
“My opinion did not matter anymore than a receptionist’s," says GHS CEO Danis Russell. “I think this award really is meaningful to us because it is the people that work here that weighed in.”
In 2022, Energage recognized GHS with its Top Workplaces Culture Excellence Recognition for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion award, and the Detroit Free Press honored it as a Top Workplaces regional/Michigan
Russell spoke with MI Mental Health about the award, his staff, and how GHS works to reduce the stigma that prevents many Michiganders from seeking help for mental health issues.
Danis Russell, CEO of Genesee Health System.
Q. Genesee Health System (GHS) has been recognized as a top workplace. How can people's places of work support their mental health?
A. That’s a really hot topic right now. Workplaces can pay attention to what staff are saying, try to support staff, and give them the tools they need to do their work. Sometimes, it's small stuff like, “I don't have any pens to write with.” It's pretty simple. And then, there’s flexibility with work schedules and that work-life balance that everybody talks about. Obviously, there are limits to what companies can do. But a lot of it is just listening to the staff. The other thing they can do is offer mental health services or counseling if that's needed. Make sure that's available. Make sure it's friendly and compassionate. I do things at work that make people want to be there, whether it's impromptu lunches or just noticing people. Work can be a big deal for most of us. Try to make it a positive experience so that staff are going to want to do the job.
Q. How does GHS support staff with their own mental health?
A. We listen to the staff. We make sure that they have services available if those are needed. We build some good stuff into the schedule, for example, wellness days. This morning we were talking about our company picnic. A lot of it is asking staff and giving them input into their jobs. I think that's really important.
Q. Why is working in mental health a rewarding career?
A. Mental health is a rewarding career because you get a much bigger sense of helping society and doing good things for your community. That’s the 30,000-feet-up view. But on a daily basis, you get to interact with people and help them on their life's journey, whatever that is, and help them work through challenges. That can run the spectrum from them being a little anxious to pretty serious mental health issues. You get to help them navigate that. At the end of the day, you have the self-satisfaction that you helped them get through another day or overcome a difficult challenge.
Q. Is there stigma about going into a career in mental health? What about stigma in general?
A. Yes, but I think that is decreasing, just like the stigma around mental health treatment is decreasing. There are still issues certainly. Mental health is still not openly talked about, not like people talk about their gallbladder operation. But stigma is decreasing, and a lot of that is due to recent media attention. And the pandemic has taught us a lot of lessons. One of those is that people are not perfect. — and it's OK to ask for help. That has become a pretty prominent message out there.
I think seeing people that we respect and are well known who have mental health issues helps reduce stigma. Naomi Asaka
, one of the best tennis players in the world, dropped out of Wimbledon for mental health. People are seeing smart, capable, successful people admit that they have mental health issues. It’s a slow process. But I can certainly see the progress that we have made over the years, and I think it's getting better all the time. That's good news.
Genesee Health System's "Top Workplace" award.
Q. Genesee County includes rural and urban communities. How does your staff work to reduce stigma in these very different communities?
A. Our staff meets people where they are. Each issue is different. With mental health, there's so much individuality and so much variety. And it's not like primary care. It's very different and very individualized. Our staff deal with whatever that set of issues is, regardless of what the setting is or where those individuals live.
Q. What message does this award convey to the community you serve?
A. If people look at us and see that the staff is happy, they think that GHS is a good place. I think the award builds confidence in the community. They know we’re going to take good care of them.
Estelle Slootmaker is project editor for the MI Mental Health Series. Contact her at [email protected].
Photos courtesy Genesee Health System
The MI Mental Health series highlights the opportunities that Michigan's children, teens, and adults of all ages have to find the mental health help they need, when and where they need it. It is made possible with funding from the Community Mental Health Association of Michigan, Center for Health and Research Transformation, Genesee Health System, Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan, North Country CMH, Northern Lakes CMH Authority, OnPoint, Sanilac County CMH, St. Clair County CMH, Summit Pointe, and Washtenaw County CMH.
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