Mobile Mental Health Unit shifts gears to assist community during the pandemic

A group of three people stand at a table in front of a bright blue bus and under a white awning.
Samiyyah El-Amin, Kirklynn Briggs and Martenis Vaughn staff the Genesee Health System’s Mobile Mental Health Unit during a community event in August. With the mobile unit, GHS offers residents health and wellness resources and information, as well as COVID-19 vaccines. Photo: Autumn D. Rummel

Genesee Health System first launched its Mobile Mental Health Unit to provide mental health support to Flint residents during the city’s water crisis, but when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, staff quickly shifted services and priorities to meet the evolving needs of the community.

“The pandemic impacted all of us. Many people in our community suffered devastating losses — the death of loved ones and the loss of a sense of normalcy,” said Elizabeth Burtch, director of Children’s Services — Outreach, Prevention, Low Intensity at GHS. “We all had to learn how to connect with our friends, family and support system in new ways.

“We knew that the community needed our services, maybe even more than ever before,” she added. “GHS reacted quickly, ensuring that staff had all the necessary equipment to continue to provide supports and services safely.”

GHS staff focused on doing what they could do to help residents as soon as COVID-19 cases were detected in Genesee County.

Outreach and clinical staff worked quickly to provide services remotely. GHS staff helped to support parents and guardians with kids at home by connecting them with family navigators, delivering food and water when needed, and connecting families to other critical resources.

In partnership with Genesee Community Health Center and Flint physician Dr. Bobby Mukkamala, mobile units visited over 90 sites and tested 1,328 individuals for COVID-19, including those in group homes and homeless shelters.

Russ Hill and Sheila Rickman with the Genesee County Health Center set up the mobile health clinic during a community event in August. The goal of the mobile unit is to offer vaccines and information to residents, as well as assist residents with a variety of resources they may need.
Photo: Autumn D. Rummel

As vaccines became available, GHS Mobile Mental Health Unit staff, in partnership with the Genesee Community Health Center, Greater Flint Health Coalition, United Way of Genesee County and Genesee County Community Action Department, began to offer free vaccines, educational materials, lunches, mental health support and other community resources throughout the county.

The mobile mental health clinic program has offered services in Flint since 2016. The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation has granted a total of $923,000 since then to support the GHS Mobile Mental Health Unit and its outreach staff. They are often the first contact for residents who are struggling with issues such as anxiety or depression and need to connect with services, either though GHS or one of its many referral partners.

Moving forward, GHS will continue to use the Mobile Mental Health Unit, outreach staff and other available programs and resources to serve the community where help is needed most. Remote therapy sessions will continue, and GHS staff hope to be able to begin getting back out in the community to offer more mental health services to residents, including seniors and others who were isolated during the pandemic.

For residents dealing with overwhelming stress, COVID-related distress as a healthcare or essential worker, or other mental health needs, GHS’s new Virtual Behavioral Health Urgent Care staff are available 24/7. Staff can be contacted at 810-496-5500. Walk-ins are accepted weekdays from 8 a.m.-10:30 p.m. at 422 W. 4th Ave.

GHS also recently developed a virtual grief support group to address all the loss the community has experienced. Residents can call 810-257-3777 to sign up for the group, which meets Thursdays from 4:00 p.m.-5:30 p.m.

“Genesee Health System has been serving Flint and Genesee County for over 50 years. Our mission remains unchanged. No matter the circumstance, we will continue to provide support and services to the community,” said Danis Russell, CEO of Genesee Health System. “The pandemic has been extremely challenging for many in our community. We will continue to evolve and find new, innovative and effective ways to provide services to the children, families and individuals in our community.”

GHS staff hope to resume group counseling sessions in school buildings soon and offer walk-up services throughout the community.

For more information on services that GHS offers contact the 24-hour crisis line at 810-257-3740 or visit