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Bill to force investigations of psychiatric deaths sails through Michigan Senate

Unanimous vote sends legislation to the House
Michigan Capitol Building
Posted at 1:57 PM, Oct 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-02 15:06:04-04

LANSING, Mich. (WXYZ) — A bill that would require state watchdogs to investigate the sudden deaths of psychiatric patients shortly after being discharged from hospitals passed unanimously in the Michigan Senate.

The bill would require the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, or LARA, to investigate patient deaths occurring within 48 hours of release from a state licensed psychiatric hospital where the cause of death is listed as suicide or unknown.

It was first introduced by Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) in March.

“The loss of a loved one from suicide is one of the most painful things a family can go through," Ananich said in a statement. "It’s up to us to do everything we can to prevent suicide, and that includes investigating when patients die following psychiatric care. My bill will help us get to the bottom of this tragic pattern and identify better ways to help fellow Michiganders who are suffering through dark times.”

Sen. Jim Ananich (D-Flint)
Sen. Jim Ananich (D-Flint) testifies before the Senate Health Policy and Human Services committee in September.

RELATED: Teen vowed to take his life if Michigan psych hospital released him. The next day, he did.

As a 7 Action News investigation first revealed, virtually no psychiatric patient deaths reported to LARA receive any investigation. Of 151 reported since 2016, only 2 received any sort of review.

RELATED: When psychiatric patients suddenly died, state didn't ask why

Previously, LARA spokesman David Harns indicated that the department says it is only empowered to investigate deaths that occur in restraints, though mental health advocacy groups dispute that.

Harns says the department is working with Ananich on his bill.

“This bill is going to be crucial to getting the information we need to stop families from having to go through this,” said Michelle Burt during testimony before a Senate subcommittee in September.

Her 15-year-old son Johnathan took his life after being released from Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services in Grand Rapids.

“It’s been nine months, and I still have no answers,” she said.

As 7 Action News first reported in August, her son’s thirteen day stay at Pine Rest was marked by repeated promises to hurt himself upon release. In fact, during each of his final six full-days at the hospital, Johnathan told staff he would take his life after being discharged.

But on November 5, the first day he did not express suicidal ideation, he was released.

“We were home five hours before my son, at 15, put a (gun) to his head and pulled the trigger,” Burt said.

His death was reported to LARA, but never investigated.

Contact 7 Investigator Ross Jones at ross.jones@wxyz.com or at (248) 827-9466.