Prior to the passage of state laws enabling community mental health boards, a group of interested citizens of Van Buren County formed a committee to arrange for local mental health services from Kalamazoo Child Guidance Clinic. This committee raised donations to pay for the services, and space was provided by the Intermediate School District. In 1969, this volunteer group was called upon by the Van Buren County Board of Commissioners to survey mental health needs in the county, set up services, and evaluate results. Eleven months later on February 10, 1970, the Board of Commissioners passed a resolution designating that committee as the Van Buren County Community Mental Health Services Board, under the terms of Public Act 54, of 1963.

Services began with a small staff doing assessment and diagnostic services, mostly with children, and grew steadily over the next decade. Outpatient counseling for children and adults was added, as were aftercare services, such as the day activity program for people being discharged from state psychiatric hospitals.

In the 1980s, the movement to community-based alternatives from inpatient psychiatric made dramatic strides in Van Buren County. The continuum of services offered grew to include partial day treatment, residential services, case management and recipient rights services.

At the beginning of the fiscal year in 1986, Van Buren Community Mental Health Services Board took a step that significantly changed the agency’s span of control. The Board elected to change the contract with the then Michigan Department of Mental Health and assume full responsibility for all mental health care for county residents, state-provided inpatient services as well as community-based services. As a result of this decision, the agency took a giant step forward in terms of growth and development. Many services were developed or expanded in an effort to avoid unnecessary hospitalization of its citizens, particularly in state psychiatric institutions. This necessitated the development of new services. Up to then, standard outpatient mental health services were the dominant mode of service delivery. From that point forward, services to persons with the more persistent and serious mental illnesses became the focal point for the organization. The continuum of care grew to include prevention services, 24-hour crisis response and stabilization services, specialized residential services, assertive community treatment services, wrap-around services, consumer-operated business services, integrated employment services, jail diversion services and hospital care management services

The program for persons with developmental disabilities has a similar but slightly different genesis and history. Services for developmentally disabled persons were begun in the mid-1950s by the Association for Retarded Citizens. In the mid-1960s, the Intermediate School District took on responsibility for programming for developmentally disabled people age 26 and under. A few years later, the adult program developed an affiliation with the McKercher Rehabilitation Center in Comstock, which developed work services for them. In 1970, the program for adults became the responsibility of Van Buren Community Mental Health Services. Over the course of the next three decades, services were expanded to include 24-hour crisis response and stabilization services, home-based services, specialized residential services, support and service coordination services, day programming services, personal care services, children’s waiver services, habilitation supports waiver services, prevocational and vocational services, and integrated employment services.

In 1996, Michigan law was amended to require “Person-Centered Planning” (PCP) within the mental health system. PCP has evolved as the vehicle through which consumers in Van Buren County experience self–determination and the freedom to choose, to participate and to achieve within their communities.

In 1998, the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) initiated a prepaid, capitated system of managed care with more stringent accountability standards and reporting requirements for community mental health. In an attempt to meet these new standards and continue to provide high quality services to consumers, Van Buren Community Mental Health joined in a partnership with Community Mental Health Authorities in Barry, Berrien, Branch and Calhoun Counties. This partnership, called Venture Behavioral Health, was created to achieve efficiencies and economies of scale while responding to the standards and requirements of MDCH. Some of Venture’s accomplishments include the development of a five-county customer service system and provider network system, and enhanced quality improvement and information technology systems.

In October, 2002, Michigan created a new method of securing behavioral health benefits for Medicaid recipients. With the consent of the federal government, specifically the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) through waivers from the basic federal Medicaid program, the state (through MDCH) has changed how they purchase Medicaid behavioral health benefits for eligible Medicaid recipients. Following this change, Venture Behavioral Health became the new benefits manager for our community.

Venture Behavioral Health is an administrator of Medicaid behavioral health (mental illness, developmental disabilities, and substance abuse) benefits acting as the MDCH’s regional administrator for the Medicaid benefit plan. Venture covers approximately 3,000 square miles, 67,000 eligible Medicaid recipients and has a $56 million annual Medicaid budget.

Venture Behavioral Health is now organized as a separately administered program of Summit Pointe, Inc., the Community Mental Health Authority of Calhoun County. An Administrative Board composed of the CEOs and Board Chairs from the five Community Mental Health Authorities governs Venture. Each has transferred their Medicaid benefits management responsibilities to the Host Board (Summit Pointe) via an ITFRA (Inter-governmental Transfer of Function and Responsibilities Act) Agreement. This Board oversees the service delivery and financial policies of the administration of benefits.

Today, Van Buren Community Mental Health Authority is a $16 million operation with approximately 180 full-time, part-time and contractual employees, working out of nine different sites throughout the county. It provides over 25 distinct services for persons of all ages with mental illnesses, emotional disorders, or developmental disabilities, serving over 2,500 such consumers each year.