Letter: Invest in mental health, build new Caro Center

The Detroit News

In the wake of Dayton and El Paso, it's time to invest in mental health.

More than 4 million Michiganians reside in areas identified by The Kaiser Family Foundation as Health Professional Shortage Areas, with the number of mental health professionals meeting the needs of fewer than 25% of the population in those areas.

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.

Michigan’s new proposal to update the Caro Center mental health unit in neighboring Tuscola County has all the appearances of a “split the loaf” decision which would only exacerbate the already critical shortage of beds to treat people with mental illnesses in Michigan. The Great Lakes Bay Region and Northern Michigan would be hurt the most.

This year, construction on a new facility at Caro had already been fully vetted by the Michigan Legislature and planned on property secured for the purpose of health care. Ground had been broken on a $115 million facility that would provide 200 beds, a 25% increase over existing services and a vital step toward ending a statewide bed shortage.

Now, after months of delay, the state’s paid consultant suggests spending some money to update Caro so it can hold 84 beds. The state ends up with 116 fewer beds than planned.

To achieve this “success,” the state plans to cut in half the capacity of Tuscola County’s second-largest employer with more than 400 employees and a total employment impact of more than 747 jobs. The economic impact of the Caro Center is approximately $54 million per year.

The Great Lakes Bay Region is a hub of medical providers, exceptional hospitals and medical education institutions, including Saginaw Valley State University which recently developed a Physician’s Assistant Program in Psychiatry. Both SVSU and Delta College offer in-demand nursing programs.

The CMU Medical School established a psychiatric residency program five years ago, and recently created additional psychiatric residency positions. Two of the four graduates from the founding class are working in the Great Lakes Bay Region.

The Great Lakes Bay Region has a laser focus on mental illness and treatment, and is actively working to address the provider shortage. These professionals can work in partnership with the Caro Center to provide the quality care needed to treat people with mental illnesses, opioid and substance abuse for the population from The Great Lakes Bay Region, Michigan’s Thumb and northern Lower Michigan. Caro is the only facility positioned to do that.

But none of this was mentioned in the paid consultant’s report. Not one of the above mentioned entities was contacted by the paid consultant. We believe this information would have changed the recommendations in the report.

Had the state done nothing, work would be continuing in Caro to build a new, 200-bed mental health unit that would be an asset to the state and a vital cog in this region. By acting, ostensibly to give Michigan a better result, the state has delayed work and is on the brink of making a shortage of mental health beds even worse in the short term.

It is time to fulfill the original commitment to keep Caro at full capacity and build the new facility that was both funded and promised by the State of Michigan.

We call on Gov. Whitmer to reject the consultants’ ideas, resume the existing replacement hospital project and help our region meet the critical needs of treating people with mental illness.

Veronica Horn, President

Saginaw County Chamber of Commerce

Ryan Tarrant, President

Bay Area Chamber of Commerce