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Lawmaker: Time to rebuild and expand state's only psychiatric hospital for kids

Rep. Whiteford wants to increase funding to 100 beds from 55
Rep. Mary Whiteford
Posted at 5:08 PM, Jul 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-01 17:08:06-04

LANSING (WXYZ) — As children in a mental health crisis wait weeks to be admitted to psychiatric hospitals, the vice-chair of the state House Appropriations Committee says the it's time to rebuild Michigan’s only state-run psychiatric hospital for children, doubling the number of children being treated there.

“It’s terrible what’s happening,” said Rep. Whiteford (R-Casco Twp.) this week, referencing reports by 7 Action News showing children waiting weeks to be placed in an inpatient psychiatric bed. “Just working together, we’ve got to be able to address this.”

Rep. Whiteford told 7 Action News that she wants the state to use federal dollars from the COVID-19 relief fund to take the the Hawthorn Center’s current funded capacity from 55 beds to 100.

RELATED: In crisis, Michigan teen waits 23 days in ER for a psychiatric bed. It wasn’t the first time.

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Located in Northville, the Hawthorn Center is the only long-term psychiatric hospital for children in the entire state. Whiteford’s goal of 100 beds would mean the highest number of children served by the hospital in decades.

Since 2010, Hawthorn's funded capacity has never exceeded 65 beds and, more recently, has hovered in the 50s. Today, a Department of Health and Human Services spokesman said the facility was treating 46 total patients.

Whiteford says the new funding for Hawthorn has the support of Michigan House Speaker Jason Wentworth and she hopes to bring other stakeholders to the table soon.

“We’re just at a logjam right now trying to get everybody to sit down and agree that this is really important,” Whiteford said.

Demand to get into Hawthorn has always been high, but mental health advocates say the pandemic has only increased the need for long-term inpatient treatment.

Psychiatric beds for both adults and children in Michigan have steadily declined since the 1990s, when then-Governor John Engler pushed to deinstitutionalize the mental health system, instead relying on outpatient treatment in the community.

The move was viewed as a more humane approach to care, in addition to a major cost-savings. But in the decades since, many mental health advocates have said the pendulum swung too far, leaving children or adults in a mental health crisis literally nowhere to turn.

More troublesome, the home and community-based treatment that was supposed to make hospitalization unnecessary never fully developed, leaving families to constantly rely on hospital emergency rooms for stabilization.

“If we did all this early, we wouldn’t need all those psych beds later,” Whiteford said, referencing earlier treatment options for those suffering from a mental illness.

“But the reality is, it’s all of the above. We have to think of every single exit point to be able to serve the people of our state. Because not every child gets a chance for early access.”

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