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'We need to find out why it’s happening.' Lawmakers want psych deaths investigated

Bills written in response to 7 Investigation
Posted at 5:13 PM, Mar 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-06 18:21:55-05

LANSING (WXYZ) — Two Michigan lawmakers are introducing legislation to require the state to investigate psychiatric patient deaths that, in the past, went unquestioned.

The two bills were written in direct response to a 7 Action News investigation revealing that nearly all of the 151 psychiatric deaths reported to state officials since 2016 were never investigated by the department that licenses them.

“We need to find out why it’s happening, and if we could have done something differently so the next one doesn’t happen,” said Sen. Jim Ananich (D-Flint).

His legislation, Senate Bill 813, was introduced Wednesday.

“Because of the work you and the station did, I knew there was a problem, but I didn’t know how severe the problem was,” he said.

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

The Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, which oversees psychiatric hospitals through the state, has required psychiatric hospitals it licenses to report each time a patient dies, whether it happens inside the hospital or within two days of being released.

Since 2016, 151 deaths have been reported to LARA. Many of them are due to natural causes, but many others not. They include patients who took their lives just hours after a hospital released them to those who committed suicide in the hospital itself.

“People are dropping the ball. Nobody’s being held accountable,” said Sherri Andenno, whose son Daryn took his life only hours after being released from a Grand Rapids hospital in 2018. “I can’t get my son back. But I want to stop this from happening to another family.”

Ananich’s bill would require the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, or LARA, to investigate every death that’s the result of suicide as well as those where the cause is listed as unknown.

“I just think, something of this nature, this gravity, you just have to tell them to do it,” Ananich said. “And you have to use that information to guide our next steps.”

In an e-mailed statement, LARA spokesman David Harns said the department has been in communication with Ananich about his bill and expressed a willingness to continue discussions.

In the state house, Rep. Phil Green (R-Millington) is introducing an even more ambitious bill. His would force more reporting from hospitals each time a patient dies, like requiring facilities to report deaths occurring within 30 days of release instead of current standard of just two.

“This would allow us to start seeing if there’s some patterns, whether it’s a hospital, whether it’s a doctor, or maybe it’s a drug,” Green said.

The most significant change in Green’s bill would move authority from LARA to the Department of Health and Human Services, which he says is better suited to investigate psychiatric patient deaths.

“They have five state hospitals,” Green said. “The department is the expert. So let’s require the department to do the investigation.”

Both lawmakers say they’re willing to work with one another and are open to compromise, so long as it addresses what they both agree is a problem.

“My desire is to protect people,” Green said. “To allow our government to do what it should be doing to help people.”

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