News & Press
Bipartisan panel recommends comprehensive changes
Local Community Mental Health CEO on Michigan's mental health and wellness programs report: 'I'd give it an A'
By Staff Reports
Posted Jan. 24, 2014 @ 9:32 pm
Michigan can increase its commitment to mental health and wellness, improving access to help and eliminating the stigma that often becomes a barrier to people getting the assistance they need, according to a bipartisan panel of state leaders.
The Mental Health and Wellness Commission's report, "Improving the Quality of Life by Supporting Independence and Self-Determination," offers comprehensive changes to the way Michiganders look at and treat mental health, developmental disabilities and substance use disorders.
Ionia County Community Mental Health CEO Robert Lathers is giving it a thumbs-up.
"I think it's very good. A lot of the recommendation have been bandied about for years. It's hard to argue with any of them," Lathers said. "The issue will be, how do you fund these things?"
Gov. Rick Snyder created the commission through an executive order in February 2013, charging it with developing recommendations to strengthen and improve the state's system of support and delivery of services.
Snyder also issued an executive order creating the state's Mental Health Diversion Council, charged with creating a plan to divert people with mental illness, developmental disabilities and substance use disorders from the criminal justice system and to appropriate treatment.
Headed by Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, the commission included state Sen. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor; state Sen. Bruce Caswell, R-Hillsdale; state Rep. Matt Lori, R-Constantine; state Rep. Phil Cavanagh, D-Redford Township; and James Haveman, the director of the Michigan Department of Community Health, who co-chaired the group.
"These bipartisan recommendations are the first steps of a long-term plan intended to increase independence, promote self-determination and improve the quality of life for Michiganders affected by mental illnesses, developmental disabilities and substance use disorders," Calley said. "Each of us knows someone affected by these struggles. I'm optimistic that we can do better by renewing our commitment to mental health and wellness, treating people with the respect and dignity they deserve, and improving the quality of life for some of our most vulnerable Michiganders."
The report offers almost 60 unanimously agreed upon recommendations for changes, focused around the ideas of removing barriers, eliminating the stigma, streamlining procedures to assist health care providers and governments and helping the most vulnerable residents.
Included are suggestions for improving access to care and housing, recognizing that thousands of Michigan's homeless have mental illnesses, developmental disabilities or substance use disorders. Recommendations include state agencies working together with the private sector to provide 500 new housing units during the next three years.
The report recognizes that Michigan is home to nearly 700,000 veterans, with more than 45,000 serving abroad in recent wars, many returning with injuries seen and unseen. The report calls for a "no wrong door" policy, so veterans get the care they need through a variety of sources.
There is help available for children, and detecting and diagnosing mental illness and developmental disabilities early in life are essential to maximizing the benefits of available treatment. Michigan will coordinate efforts among agencies and set higher outcomes to assist the youngest Michiganders.
The commission also states that stigma associated with mental illness can be a primary deterrent to seeking care, affecting how people are perceived at home and in the workplace. Recommendations include eradicating the phrase "mental retardation" from Michigan law, developing a Pure Michigan marketing strategy to highlight opportunities for families living with disabilities and campaigns focusing on personal stories and community outreach.
Lathers said he supports the addition of more groups as priority populations for service, including children who enter long-term foster care and residential placements, the homeless and veterans.
"One of the things it does, and I am encouraged about, is it supports community-based services to people. There is not anything that people should live in institutions. They belong to the community and we need to serve them through a mental health system the community expects," he said. "Veterans, I have personal feelings about. They carry a burden. One percent of the population is military and their families, and they are serving the other 99 percent. To not acknowledge the need is wrong, I really like that part in there."
However, not everyone is eligible for Medicaid funding to pay for programs, and the federal and state governments have rules and mandates about who qualifies, Lathers added.
"Jail services, Alzheimer wraparound programs and services to veterans are not generally eligible for Medicaid. The homeless are not covered," he said. "The challenge will be, how do we fund these things? I would never suggest the exclusion of people. But this is a report that is talking about changing laws."
Lathers said he would advocate for providing all the services, and then finding the money, not the other way around.
"This is very congruent with how Ionia County Community Mental Health wants to be perceived in the community and serve the community," he said.
The commission conducted hearings in Lansing, Grand Rapids, Traverse City, Marquette, Detroit and Sanilac.
Cavanagh said he looks forward to a leadership role in moving the recommendations through the state legislature.
"It was a lot of work, but Michigan is on the cusp of some real reforms in the way we look at and treat our mentally and physically handicapped citizens," Cavanagh said. "It was said early on that this report wasn't just going on a shelf somewhere, but would be a plan for action."
"This was done external to our system, and it was not generated by the mental health system, but by the governor's office and legislators," Lathers said. "It's pointing the compass in the direction Community Mental Health needs to go. I'd give it an A."
The full report is available at www.michigan.gov/mentalhealth.