Addressing Mental Health and Substance Use Services for People of Color

In honor of Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, Oakland County Deputy Executive Rudy Hobbs offers insight on the barriers minority communities face — and the work that’s being done to help them overcome these issues.

Oakland County Deputy Executive Rudy Hobbs understands the challenges that minorities face when it comes to receiving health care for themselves and their family members. For some, it’s being underinsured or uninsured. For others, it’s lack of access to resources. And for many, it’s a combination of factors.

As part of his position with Oakland County, Hobbs oversees the Health & Human Services division, which aims to protect the community through health promotion and disease prevention. But his understanding of these issues runs deeper than his work.

“My wife and I were married at 20 and 19 and had a kid, and by the time we were 23, we already had another kid. So we spent quite a bit of time in the system dealing with Medicaid (and) dealing with the state,” Hobbs says. “I kind of have some personal experience with this.”

Today, Hobbs works hard to ensure that minorities have access to an array of services, and his work is integral, particularly when it comes to mental health and substance use disorders.

That’s why Oakland County is developing a partnership with Honor Community Health to give minority communities access to complete care — in one place. It’s important, Hobbs notes, to keep in mind that people with 30-minute lunch breaks, for example, can’t take hours off at a time for doctor appointments. It becomes even more challenging for parents to get additional services for their children, or themselves, that would require another visit or day off work.

“What we need to do is bring all of our services under one roof. We need to be able to provide stellar primary care services (from) doctors who do care about their patients,” Hobbs says, “because we’re talking about a very vulnerable population that already deals with a lot of stress just being a minority in today’s environment.”

While this mission is underway, there is still work to be done — and when it comes to access to care, minorities are still at a disadvantage.

Barriers in health care

Building trust with a primary care physician is an important step in anyone’s health care journey.

“I do think it’s important that for people of color, when we seek resources, we want to know that the provider has the ability to connect with us and understand our walk as minorities, as people of color,” Hobbs says, and that he or she understands what comes along with being a person of color. “That really speaks to our provider base. Do we have enough providers that truly understand our walk of life?”

Having access to primary care physicians to initiate this relationship of trust is a big barrier for minority communities.

“We have a lot of clinics and urgent cares, but there aren’t primary providers really setting down brick and mortar in the neighborhood,” Hobbs says. “So they set down brick and mortar in places where you need transportation to get to, and transportation is also a struggle.”

Aside from insurance and access, stigma on mental health conditions and substance use can prevent individuals from receiving proper care.

“There’s always been a stigma in the community around mental health, and I think because of the stigma, there hasn’t really been a lot of work that has been done to fix that stigma,” he says.

Gaining access to care

The Oakland Community Health Network (OCHN), which provides an array of services for mental health and substance use disorders, is one of Oakland County’s partners in caring for the health of Oakland County residents.

“OCHN is committed to the development and implementation of service strategies, trainings, and best practices that address the unique mental health and substance use disorder needs of people who belong to minority populations,” explains Christina Nicholas, Director, Substance Use Prevention and Treatment Services for OCHN. “Our goal is to ensure all people we serve are heard, respected, and valued, regardless of their ethnicity, race, sex, gender identity, or religion.”

The OCHN can provide access to services and support for Oakland County residents to ensure their health and quality of life. These resources include the RISE Center in Pontiac, Honor Community Health and more. The RISE Center offers case management, recovery support, peer services and more for residents, while Honor Community Health offers comprehensive primary, behavioral health and dental care throughout Oakland County.

This content is brought to you by the Oakland Community Health Network. For more information call 248-464-6363 or visit


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