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House behavioral health subcommittee leaders unveil legislative priorities

February 9, 2023
<p>The Michigan State Capitol on June 8, 2022.</p>

The Michigan State Capitol on June 8, 2022.

The behavioral health subcommittee of the state House of Representatives will be prioritizing psychiatric emergency rooms, staffing mental healthcare workers and increasing access to mental health resources for youth.

Rep. Felicia Brabec, D-Ann Arbor and chair of the subcommittee said that in Washtenaw county, there has been an increase in people who are seeking mental health care services and resources as well as a decrease in hospitalizations related to behavioral health emergencies.

Brabec, who has a background in clinical psychology, said patients experiencing a mental health crisis would typically go to an emergency department and be hospitalized.

From there, the patient would receive treatment through a partial hospitalization program, where the patient is in the hospital during the day for many days of the week. Following the partial hospitalization would be the intensive outpatient hospitalization, during which a regular visit to a therapist is incorporated and visits to the hospital are reduced.

Outpatient care is the last step, Brabec said. When the hospital is no longer involved, and the patient may be receiving treatment from a therapist. 

However, the two middle steps – partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs – are virtually gone, according to Brabec.

“You go from this crisis moment to someone who’s seeing you once a week,” Brabec said.

Laura Appel, the executive vice president of government relations and policy at the Michigan Health and Hospitals Association said the state’s resources for people with complex mental illnesses are not adequate.

An appropriation for $50 million was granted in the fiscal year 2023 state budget signed in July of 2022 by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The appropriation would expand pediatric inpatient mental health departments.

“We were grateful to the legislature for providing the flexibility around that funding to help those [nurses] specifically to work in psychiatric care,” Appel said.

The subcommittee’s minority vice chair Rep. Kathy Schmaltz, R-Jackson, said the subcommittee members met with mental health workers who reported that their caseloads are tremendous.

“There’s about 450,000 people in Michigan with serious mental health conditions,” Schmaltz said.

Developing designated psychiatric emergency departments will provide the proper place for behavioral health crises to be cared for, Brabec said.

“We are working on how to make sure that hospitals have the financial support to make sure they have enough security, that they have the right infrastructure, that they have the right setup so that people can’t find ways to injure themselves when they’re inside of this location,” Appel said.

Mental health needs coupled with developmental disabilities, especially in children, will continue to be a point of priority, Appel said.

“An awful lot of the time … they end up going to the emergency department because there is something terribly wrong,” Appel said.

Anxiety in young people is top of mind for Schmaltz. She said she'd like to target providing access to mental health resources in schools as well as placing behavioral health professionals in school settings.

“It’s important too, to also not just have an adult mental health care worker there, but some of their peers who are going through the same thing,” Schmaltz said.

Moving forward, Schmaltz said she is ready to work with whichever party to provide Michiganders with adequate mental health care.

“We have to help people in this state who have mental health issues, and we’re not doing it right now," Schmaltz said. "I am confident that we’re going to work together on this, because it’s a problem we all have to deal with."

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