Whitmer: Use $1.4B to expand health access, build facilities

David Eggert Associated Press

Lansing — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday proposed spending $1.4 billion in federal pandemic funding to expand health care and infrastructure, including to bolster access to mental health services, replace state psychiatric hospitals and build a new public health lab.

The proposal, if approved by the Republican-led Legislature, would account for more than a fifth of Michigan's $6.5 billion in discretionary rescue funding approved by Congress and President Joe Biden six months ago. Lawmakers could consider it — and other spending plans previously outlined by the Democratic governor — this fall after finalizing the state budget this month.

Whitmer called for $335 million in grants to improve access to treatments for autism, behavioral health and substance abuse. An additional $325 million would fund the construction of a new psychiatric facility in the Detroit area to replace both the Hawthorn Center in Northville Township and the Walter P. Reuther Psychiatric Hospital in Westland.

The governor wants to use $220 million to replace the public health lab in Lansing and $115 million to update health information technology systems that track immunizations, diseases and connect health providers with each other. State officials have said outdated or disparate data systems have hampered the response to COVID-19.

The pandemic, Whitmer said, "exposed and exacerbated critical gaps in our health system." The plan would make "long-overdue investments to put Michigan families first," she said.

Elizabeth Hertel, director of the state Department of Health and Human Services, said more than half of residents with a behavioral health diagnosis and nearly 70% with a substance abuse disorder do not receive treatment.

Whitmer proposed $45 million in grants to local health departments that experts have said are underfunded, $20 million to fund telemedicine rooms in public places such as state social service offices, $77 million to help retain direct care workers, $40 million to provide home repair and plumbing assistance to lower-income families, and $39 million to improve infection controls inside nursing homes.

Other funding would go to foster parents, homeless shelters and provide grants to manage coronavirus-related trauma.