Opinion: Don't play with state’s mental health facilities

Mary Whiteford

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently announced she has halted the construction of an expanded psychiatric hospital at the Caro Center in Tuscola County. The project was approved by the previous administration and would have added much-needed hospital beds to the state’s mental health care system.

I am heartbroken by this decision.

Caro Center is one of the Michigan's five remaining facilities to treat mentally ill adults. Located in Tuscola County's Indianfields Township, the facility serves people from the Upper Peninsula and most of the northern lower peninsula.

The proposed hospital would replace current buildings and offer a safe, clean and updated hospital for 200 people. The current facility can only hold 79 people due to its aging infrastructure.

Across the state, hundreds of people are waiting to get the mental health care they desperately need. As elected officials, we should be finding ways to improve the system, not halting already approved projects and wasting tax dollars.

The Caro Psychiatric Hospital’s construction was already underway. If the governor stands by her decision to defund the project, $3 million taxpayer dollars will be immediately wasted on Caro’s existing construction progress. Not to mention the countless tax dollars that will be wasted on the planning and development of a new facility elsewhere.

We simply can’t afford to throw away precious dollars we’ve already invested in our mental health care system.

Our psychiatric care system already faces tough challenges. Many hospitals around the state, including Allegan General Hospital in my home district, closed their psychiatric units due to low state reimbursement for Medicaid patients.

Small hospitals cannot financially withstand the massive losses incurred to support this important work. Finding ways to improve Medicaid reimbursement to hospitals is critical.

Another issue is determining where beds are needed most. A bill I sponsored last legislative term was signed into law and establishes a statewide psychiatric bed registry to help us determine the best places to invest the resources needed to help our citizens.

Caro is one of those places.

It is important for us to recognize that the residents of our state are crying for help and there is no simple solution. The Caro Psychiatric Hospital is one piece of this solution.

I was honored to be selected as a member of the House C.A.R.E.S. Mental Health Task Force last term. During the task force’s statewide tour, I heard from experts and stakeholders about Michigan’s desperate need for more state psychiatric beds. We listened to those cries for help and we did something about it. Now the governor is suggesting we undo all of that work, leaving us right back where we started.

As a registered nurse, I came to Lansing because I care about people and I am passionate about helping them. I was pleased by the opportunities that this new, clean, and safe facility presented to Michigan’s citizens. We simply cannot wait any longer for a facility like this to be built. The Caro Center is the ideal location to start delivering the mental health solutions our state needs.

The governor’s campaign was fueled by promises of building bridges and working to find bipartisan solutions. I implore her to reconsider her decision and do what’s best for the people of Michigan.

Rep. Mary Whiteford, R-Casco Township, represents Michigan’s 80th House district.