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Tom Watkins
Tom Watkins

Bob Sheehan

December 1, 2017 

Under the Capitol Dome there is an “association” for every business and cause you can imagine. One cause that impacts every citizen in Michigan that often does not get the notice and exposure it needs and deserves is behavioral health- or mental health and substance abuse. These illnesses impact 1 in 4 individuals and no family is likely to avoid its impact.

There are over 300,000 people in Michigan served by the public behavioral health system. The past few years the Snyder administration and some legislative leaders have pushed to transfer over $2.6 billion public dollars from the public mental health system to the private (often profit making) insurance companies. A major roadblock from allowing this to happen has been the Community Mental Health Association of Michigan ( strategically led by Bob Sheehan, its CEO.

Clearly the goal of healthcare integration is an important one. The question is not “if” healthcare should be integrated, it is “how and when.” Bob Sheehan has stood strong, with the help of consumers and advocates of the public and a values based public mental health system to assure that any change to the system of care also produces progress and adds value to the people served.

The mission of the Community Mental Health Association of Michigan is “to support, enhance, and advance Michigan’s public mental health system, which includes community mental health services programs (CMHSPs), Prepaid Inpatient Health Plans (PIHPs), and provider organizations to improve the health, safety and well-being of Michigan’s residents and communities by providing, integrating and coordinating mental health, intellectual and developmental disability, and substance use disorder services with those of state and local health and human service organizations and through collaborative relationships with consumers and community partners.”

The work of the organization is carried out by its members across the state under the direction of its CEO, Bob Sheehan and exceptional staff.

Bob and his team values and work shine throughout Lansing and across the nation.

Federal And State Praise

The praise for Bob and the important advocacy work he does on behalf of his members is bipartisan and flowed like a river when I put out word I was writing this article and includes:

Our senior US Senator, Debbie Stabenow, begins, “I’ve had the wonderful privilege of knowing and working with Bob for many years on mental health issues. Thanks to Bob’s leadership, thousands of residents in the Lansing region are better-equipped to get treatment for mental illness and manage their disease. Bob has taken his passion with him in his new role, and I know he is advocating every day to make sure quality mental health services are available to those in need.”

Lt Governor, Brian Calley, a strong advocate in his own right, picks up the praise claiming, “Bob Sheehan has been a tireless advocate for healthcare from the neck up. He keeps his eye on the long term and is driven by a desire to help people live their best lives. I am thankful for the difference he continues to make.”

Nick Lyon, Director of the Michigan Department of Community Health relies on the leadership of the Community Mental Health Association, echos Bob’s leadership and values, “ As head of the local community mental health agency, CEO Bob worked hard to ensure that those with behavioral health needs were getting the services they needed. Using his experience as a leader, he now tirelessly advocates at the state and national level for those in our society who are most vulnerable. His work has helped ensure that Michigan has a strong, community based system of care that focuses on individuals.”

“Bob’s greatest asset to the Community Mental Health Association of Michigan is his vision, with all the challenges it’s easy to get stuck and lose focus, and one of the “Seven Habits of Highly Successful People” according to author Stephen Covey, is beginning with the end in mind. I think Bob does an excellent job with this. Also he is a great listener, this allows him to hear different opinions and solutions and use these in his decisions. I am excited for Bob’s leadership for years to come,” proclaims Joe Stone, President of the Community Mental Health Association of Michigan.

“My interactions with Bob Sheehan go back to when he was CMH Director here in Lansing region. I learned early on of Bob’s passion to protect and serve our citizens who have no other means and often these individuals were outside the Medicaid system and only the “safety net” of services were available. While there are many who speak on our Medicaid program and need to preserve the gains achieved in past years— there are precious few to advocate to protect our safety net — which is what you and I depend on when misfortune hits. This is Bob’s passion and you might say his mission— I know my respect for him comes due to this dedication. Michigan is fortunate to have Bob in his current role and we all need to take his advocacy to heart,” said Rick Murdock, former executive director of Michigan Association of Health Plans and now president of R.B. Murdock Consulting

Conservative and compassionate State Senator Mike Shirkey, Chair of the Senate Health Policy Committee touts Bob’s skills, “I’ve only had the pleasure to work with Bob Sheehan for a few short years. But after our first meetings it became abundantly clear he has both a sincere passion for and a well refined expertise in advocacy for a special cohort of people. Bob has proven to be a great resource in understanding the needs and nuances of behavioral health access and service delivery.

Recognizing we are broadly under invested in behavioral health, Bob has somewhat hesitantly but honestly engaged in helping design our integration pilots….because he believes like I do….that we have an obligation to find more resources within the bounds our our current spending.”

National Praise

From the national perspective, Linda Rosenberg, President and CEO of the National Council Behavioral Health ( claims, “Advocates require dedication and persistence, and Bob’s passion and strong belief in the possibilities of recovery drive his dedication and persistence on behalf of others.”

Ron Manderscheid, Executive Director for NACBHDD chimes in, “Bob is a real hero for mental health in Michigan–excellent leadership, fine values, and essential advocacy. He does the same things nationally for all of us at the National Association of County Behavioral Health and Developmental Disability Directors ( Hence, we all owe him a great deal for what he does every day.”

Closer To Home

Jim Haveman, the respected former director of the forerunner of the Department of Community Health captures the essence of Bob Sheehan saying, “Bob is always thinking of how behavioral health systems can be improved or changed. His career has clearly demonstrated that commitment. Leading an association like he is doing today is not easy work. Bob skillfully gets the association’s strategic plan in place and doesn’t wavier from it. His advocacy and persuasive points are respected and welcomed in Lansing by all who work with him.”

A staunch advocate, Kevin Fischer, Executive Director of NAMI Michigan explains, “Bob has been a consistent, rational voice throughout the 298 (healthcare integration) process. He has an ability to hear the voices of the advocates, the health plans and his members, while maintaining focus on the needs of the people we serve. Bob understands Michigan’s current public behavioral system must evolve to continue to meet the needs of those who receive services, and has shown a willingness to work with all parties to achieve the best possible system of care.”

“Bob Sheehan leads one of the most critical organizations in the state, the recently renamed Community Mental Health Association of Michigan. This organization has for over 50 years represented those served by the public community mental health system across every part of the state. The measure of a community leader is one who above all represents the interests of the people who are the primary recipients of the organization’s mission and purpose. I have known Bob to continually advocate for people and the support they need to live within their home communities. The path to these resources is an increasingly difficult one as we can presently see the many demands and views upon public funding priorities. Bob zealously works with advocacy organizations to help policy makers understand the value of putting people’s lives together, Jim Dehem, President/CEO, Community Living Services, Inc.

“From a providers’ perspective, Bob Shaheen is the trusted liaison for all that is Michigan community mental health. His regular communications are looked for to maintain up-to-date policy, practice and engagement as an administrator and provider of care. Bob’s commitment to pooling Michigan’s CMH leadership to ensure a strong united front is unmatched,”Carol Zuniga, Executive Director, Hegira Programs, Inc

Adding Value-Making A Difference

The consumer of the public mental health system have a slogan: “Nothing about us, without us.” Bob bends over backwards to assure the constituents voice is sought out, included and amplified in all he does as the CEO of Community Mental Health Association of Michigan.

Protecting quality care that is value and not profit based is the mission of the Community Mental Health Association of Michigan . It is a voice that should never be extinguished.

The voice of Bob Sheehan and the people he represents needs to be a constant echo, with a megaphone in Lansing for decades to come.

Tom Watkins has served the citizens of Michigan as state mental health director, state superintendent of schools, and president and CEO of the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority.He can be emailed at:, or followed on twitter at:@tdwatkins88


November 30, 2017 · Filed under Tom Watkins



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