Lawmakers consider psych hospital for area

May 25, 2017

By Pat Maurer

Six State Representatives are supporting the development of a new psychiatric hospital north of Clare County to replace the aging Caro facility and make access closer for Michigan’s northern counties.

Officials determined that the psychiatric hospital in Caro, located at 2000 Chambers Road, is in need of significant renovation. That need led a discussion about constructing a new facility.

“It is still in the very early stages and would likely be located somewhere close to I-75 if it (the Caro facility) was indeed moved to northern Michigan,” said Joe Perry, the Legislative Director for 97th District Representative Jason Wentworth.

Wentworth and five others; Michele Hoitenga (102nd District), Triston Cole (105th District), Sue Allor (106th District), Beau LaFave (108th District), and Scott Dianda (110th District); have all expressed support for the project.

“I am concerned that those suffering with forms of illness, both physical and mental, need better access to care. Northern Michigan residents should not have to drive, sometimes hours, to get the help they need. As the state representative for Arenac, Clare, Gladwin and part of Osceola counties, it is my duty to advocate and make this move a reality,” Wentworth said.

Caro is fairly remote from access to interstate highways. It is about 30 minutes from I-75 and 45 minutes from I-69. The closest access roads are MI-81 and MI-46. It is located 95.8 miles from Clare, 83.6 miles from Gladwin County, 77.2 miles from Isabella County and more than 500 miles from the northernmost U.P. counties.

Moving the Caro facility is not a new idea, Perry said Wednesday, “but would require money appropriated to building a new facility anywhere in the state. Upgrading the (Caro) facility seems less likely as the property has 38 building on six acres with only five being operational. Michigan has similar facilities in Kalamazoo, Washtenaw and Wayne County. We had a similar facility in Traverse City and Newberry years ago.”

“A good portion of them (the buildings) are not currently in use because they are so old, they are inhabitable,” said Angela Minucici, of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services…Minucici goes on to say that there are about 200 people on the waiting list to get into a state psychiatric center. Michigan currently has five psychiatric centers with the other facilities, all located south of Caro.

There are three State Hospitals for Michigan adults in need of inpatient psychiatric care (Caro/Kalamazoo/Reuther). Individuals must be authorized to the State Hospital by the responsible Community Mental Health Services Program (CMHSP). They can also be judicially ordered for admission.

“Attempts are made to admit the individuals to their CMHSP-assigned Regional Hospitals, but that is not always easy.  With the ongoing lengthy wait lists, it has come to the point where the three Regional Hospitals admit from all 83 counties.  Our goal is to ensure that someone in need of an inpatient bed gets admitted as quickly as possible – even if it occurs outside the designed scope of area of the designated Regional Hospital.” Lorna Elliot-Egan, Legislative Liaison, MDHHS
The Caro facility, now more than 100 years old, has 120 beds and has approximately 340 employees, Perry added. Sixty-eight percent of the staff live outside the Caro zip code.

A class action lawsuit filed on behalf of several hundred patients at the hospital claims that mandatory overtime for employees is endangering patients. Additionally, increases in violent behavior have been reported.

Perry said no legislation is being developed at this time about moving the Caro hospital, since this is more of an appropriations issue with the Department of Health and Human Services, who will have to get funding before building a new facility.

A press release from Dorothy Gordon at the House of Representatives said the arguments for moving the Caro facility north include:
*The fact that there appears to be a significantly higher rate of suicides in Northern Michigan as compared to the rest of the state. This highlights a serious problem and shatters the misconception that suicides are only a problem in big cities and other major population centers.

*Access to Department of Health and Human Services state psychiatric hospitals for Northern Michiganders is abysmal, to say the least. All six current facilities are remote in this sense.

*That there is a strong case for rebuilding this facility in Northern Michigan. The inequality of access to these facilities across the state is severe. Once again, Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula appear to have been forgotten.

The representatives have asked to meet with the governor and director of the Department of Health and Human Services to discuss their concerns. The public is encouraged to contact the DHHS, their elected officials, and the governor to voice their support for the effort.

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