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Whitmer calls for significant increase in state psych beds for children

Proposed 45% bed increase would be highest level in 10+ years
Posted at 2:23 PM, Feb 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-08 18:25:11-05

LANSING (WXYZ) — Governor Gretchen Whitmer is calling for a significant increase in the number of young patients treated at Michigan’s only psychiatric hospital for children.

Whitmer’s proposed budget, set to be announced Wednesday, will call for an almost 50% increase in the number of staffed beds at the Hawthorn Center located in Northville.

“Access to reliable, affordable psychiatric treatment is critical to the health and wellbeing of Michiganders and our communities,” Whitmer said in a statement to 7 Action News. “We have to expand in-patient mental health facilities and improve the services we provide.”

Whitmer’s proposal, which will require approval from the Republican-controlled legislature, was applauded by mental health advocates statewide.

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

Related: Kids 'stack up' in Michigan ERs as hospitals resist adding 100+ needed psychiatric beds

“This is an effort to restore the safety net,” said Robert Sheehan, Executive Director of the Community Mental Health Association in Michigan. “Our aim is to treat kids in their homes and in the communities, but when that fails—and it does fail at times—we need beds that are available.”

Mark Reinstein, the longtime CEO of the Mental Health Association in Michigan, said that the increase is sorely needed and long overdue.

“I’ve learned that government is never going do everything that could and should be done at one time,” he said. “This is an incremental step and it’s a positive one.”

Since 2014, 7 Action News has reported extensively on the shortage of psychiatric beds in Michigan—especially for those that serve children.

RELATED: Michigan kids in mental crisis still wait weeks in ERs. Lansing's in no rush to stop it.

Private hospitals often turn children away when they’re in need of psychiatric treatment because bed space is full or the child’s acuity—the severity of their mental health diagnoses— is too high.

Often times, the Hawthorn Center is the only facility in the state equipped to provide longer-term treatment for children in an acute crisis, but the waiting list to get in is routinely weeks or months long.

Since 2015, funding for the Hawthorn Center has been frozen time. State officials approved only 55 beds in the facility to be used to treat children, even though it could treat more than twice that many.

“To me, it’s a type of discrimination,” Cyndi Jensen told 7 Action News in 2021 while her daughter was in the midst of a 23-day wait to be admitted to Hawthorn. “We can’t help you because you have too many needs for us.”

In November, while children like Nicole Knight’s son waited a month to get into Hawthorn, 7 Action News questioned Governor Whitmer about why she was not seeking an increase in funding at the hospital.

Whitmer stressed the importance of mental health services to children, but did not address why an increase had not happened.

But in her State of the State address last month, Whitmer stressed the importance of mental health as the pandemic stretches into its third year said increasing access to inpatient treatment was a priority.

“I think the public reading about and seeing on videotape kids languishing in emergency rooms is very powerful,” Reinstein said.

Whitmer's budget proposal also includes $325 million to build a new state psychiatric facility complex that would replace the aging Hawthorn center as well as the Walter Reuther Hospital which treats older adults.

If approved, it’s unclear when the new hospital would break ground or where it would be located.

While Republican approval is not guaranteed, there were positive signs that at least some members would welcome Whitmer’s proposal.

“I think everyone’s going to be in favor of this,” said Rep. Mary Whiteford (R-South Haven).

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