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Cavanagh: Mental health not broken, don’t try to fix it

Phil Cavanagh

The city of Detroit and the county of Wayne seem to be back from the brink of disaster.

Clearly the leadership of Mayor Mike Duggan and County Executive Warren Evans deserve credit.

There has been much publicity about the turning around and promising futures of the county and the city; but there is another governmental unit that has not just righted the ship, but gone from worst to first in just two years’ time.

Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority (DWMHA) under the leadership of Tom Watkins is leading the state in its programing by utilizing best practices, data-driven outcomes and striving for the greatest level of independence of the 70,000 persons with mental illness, developmentally disabled and substance uses disorders they serve annually.

Whereas just two years ago the operations of the Wayne County Mental Health Agency caused the state Legislature to mandate a change in the way they were governed because its mismanagement was jeopardizing the entire state’s Medicaid funding from the federal government.

Operations have improved so dramatically since Watkins (the former state superintendent of schools and former state mental health director) became its CEO and president that the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority is to be recognized nationally and awarded for its excellence by the National Behavioral Health Association receiving its “Impact” Award at its annual convention.

Among the accomplishments:

■Partnering with the Flinn Foundation to produce two nationally recognized anti-stigma documentaries that aired on local stations: Opening Minds and Ending Stigma

■2016 National Council Award of Excellence for having trained over 10,000 community members in Mental Health First Aid

■Finding over $20 million to provide a dollar an hour wage increase for direct care staff

■Integrating Substance use services and then redirecting $3 million from bureaucracy to enhanced service in the process

■Producing a Quality Care Task Force report to enhance the quality of their residential settings.

■Tapped by U.S. Sen. Stabenow to contribute to the national mental health scene in shaping the Excellence in Mental Health Act

I am grateful for the significant contributions Watkins and the team he has assembled is making to the public mental health system in Michigan.

We can all be proud of the job DWMHA is doing.

Yet the folks in Lansing are now fiercely debating a section in the governor’s 2016-2017 budget that transfers the Community Mental Health Medicaid dollars — $2.4 billion — over to private insurance companies and the Medicaid Health Plans.

I urge community members to call their legislators and ask them to never take the community, compassion and mission from community mental health

Phil Cavanagh is a former Wayne County commissioner and state representative who served on the Governor’s Mental Health and Wellness Commission.