City Travel – When it comes to behavioral health issues in the Grand Traverse community, navigating the network of services stresses those who seek them, their families, and even those providing needed care.
At a hearing hosted by Grand Traverse County this week, representatives from the many agencies serving children and adults with mental health issues, substance use disorders and developmental disabilities said services are isolated, there are service gaps, and there aren’t enough psychiatrists to provide The service is the population and there is not enough money.
The session was chaired by County Administrator Nate Alger and Chancellor Sarah Bannon, who has been appointed to lead the county through the process of leaving the six-district Northern Lakes Community Mental Health Authority and forming its own authority.
The Grand Traverse County Council voted in May to repeal an enabling agreement created in 2003 for the Northern Lakes Authority that also includes Crawford, Lillanow, Missouki, Roscommon, and Wexford counties. The dissolution of the agreement means that NLCMHA no longer exists. Since then, the commissioners have chosen to reconsider the agreement before making the final decision to leave.
The county’s board chairman, Rob Henchell, said the county is now on two potential paths — one that would explore getting out of the northern lakes and forming a smaller entity. The other is to explore whether CMH can stay the same by improving services.
“Could the northern lakes join together to bridge the gaps we hear about in some way?” asked Henschel. “However, the other road is not closed.”
On Tuesday, Algeria informed the assembled that CMH’s six district leaders had agreed to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding that they are committed to improving mental health services and possibly making changes to the Empowerment Agreement.
“There is no discussion about our commitment to withdraw from CMH,” Algeria said. “The discussion is how to move forward.”
Children’s services are especially needed. Statistics show that there are only 48 beds at Michigan State Children’s Hospital, and none in Northern Michigan. Many children brought to the emergency department at Monson Medical Center sometimes wait for a psychiatric bed for up to three weeks. Parents must stay with the child and when a bed is found it is far enough away that it causes hardship for the family.
“We are unable to care for our children here in our community when they are facing a crisis,” said Gina Aranchi, executive director of Child and Family Services Northwest Michigan. “For us, being able to care for our children and adults in their own community is a step toward creating a fully healthy community.”
Paula Lipinski, chief executive of addiction treatment services, said the agency has a waiting list for clients who need other services. Lisa Kleber, special education supervisor at Creekside School, said children have been on waiting lists for more than a year for inpatient treatment and psychological services.
Pat Nofar is a board member of the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the father of two serving children.
“I just want to encourage all agencies to open their eyes and think outside the box in terms of being able to involve parents in conversations and in decision-making and be able to help us go through some of the routines that parents are facing in the hospital and with agencies so that we can have accurate information About our sons and daughters.
The county has $18 million in US bailout bills and a committee set up earlier this year will make recommendations to the GTC on how it should be spent. Mental health services were selected as a priority by both the committee and through a community survey conducted this summer.
Algiers, a law enforcement officer for 26 years before becoming county director, said he saw many horrific things that could have easily been avoided by better mental health services, especially for those in crisis — many of whom end up in prison.
Solutions such as pairing trained officers with mental health workers to respond to crises, rather than uniformed officers in a police car, are being considered.
There are also plans for a Grand Traverse County Health Center that will be open 24/7 to provide crisis stabilization and residential services for children and adults. The center will work to divert people from prisons and emergency rooms.
Algeria said the information collected on Tuesday will be used to re-establish the Enabling Agreement and to identify services that can realistically be provided across the northern lakes.
“It will take a long time to fix this and it will have to be done in the form of gnawing,” Alger said.