LANSING, Mich. — Advocates gathered in Lansing Tuesday to urge the legislature to improve care for Michiganders with dementia.
Their two main goals were to create a dementia unit within the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and to add neurologists to the list of professionals eligible for loan repayment if they work in high-need areas.
“We're here lobbying for Michigan residents for a couple of different reasons. My main focus is to get a dementia unit made permanent here under MDHHS and to make sure it's fully funded for the 2023 year," said Heather Barringer, an advocate with the Alzheimer's Association.
Last year, advocates succeeded in creating a dementia unit within the health department. The legislature approved $400,000 to pay for it but that money was only allocated for one year.
“Nothing much developed with it. We don't have staffing in place yet, so we want to make sure that we get the staff in place that can coordinate Michigan's dementia plan," Barringer said.
The second ask is to add neurologists to the list of professionals eligible for loan repayment under the Michigan Essential Provider Program. Basically, that would incentivize neurologists to work in underserved areas in exchange for help paying off their student loans.
“That's really important because Alzheimer's and other dementias are basically neurological illnesses," said Anita Bhama, an advocate with the Alzheimer's Association. "Without access to care, you don't get diagnoses, you don't get referrals for better types of treatments or even notice of what resources might be available to help the person actually suffering from it.”
For Libby Ford, an Ann Arbor woman who was diagnosed with early-onset dementia at 57, increasing access to care around the state is important.
“I have everything at my fingertips. The whole state of Michigan needs to have access to what I had access to," said Ford.
The American Medical Association estimates that 43 counties in Michigan don’t have a single neurologist. Advocates hope that Tuesday’s work will help change that.