The August 29 C.A.R.E.S. Task Force hearing was in Auburn Hills at the Oakland Community Health Network (OCHN). OCHN professionals, Oakland County Law enforcement, local leaders, and public health representatives from the private and public sector offered solutions for improved mental health services. National and local crime survivor advocates shared personal stories and urged enactment of policies that create safe communities and help crime survivors heal.

Christina Nicolas, OCHN administrator of substance abuse prevention and treatment services, outlined the importance of formal and informal supports for people in recovery while seeking true treatment needs. She said, “treatment is effective and recovery is possible.” OCHN offers follow-up services for people released from jail, especially those that are a high risk of overdosing.

Cathie Yunker, OCHN administrator of access and acute care, highlighted Medicaid challenges. Medicaid is not available during incarceration and upon release it must be reactivated, resulting in a delay in accessing critical services. Yunker urged task force members to address this barrier to funding and treatment, as sustainable funding streams are critical to the delivery of services. Many of the OCHN programs are funding through a “patchwork of sources,” making strategic planning difficult.

Megan E. Noland, director of government affairs at the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office, discussed the increased number of people in jail with mental health issues — approximately 35 percent of the jail population. The jail has become a “de facto” mental health facility.

Oakland County has provided crisis intervention training (CIT) provided to 120 officers from 19 different agencies across the county. As a result, Noland said:

We are seeing an increase in access to supportive services and diversion from jail.

Barb Hankey, manager of the Oakland County Community Corrections Division, discussed the importance of sharing resources. The Oakland County Community Corrections Division provides a wide array of sentencing alternatives for individuals with nonviolent convictions. Their Community Access Liaison offers a variety of supportive services for individuals with mental health issues, in collaboration with OCHN.

Elizabeth Kelly, executive director of the Hope Warming Center, also partners with the OCHN on services for homeless residents at two homeless shelters. The Warming Center works to find permanent housing opportunities and services for homeless individuals that often cycle through many systems before getting the resources they need.

Two members of the Oakland County Board of Commissioners, Shelley Taub and Helaine Zack, described services for the county’s most vulnerable populations. Both discussed the importance of individualized services and the need to stabilize funding for the provision of services in the county.

Brent Wirth, chief executive officer of the Easterseals Michigan, an organization serving children and adults with disabilities and/or special needs, described the importance of private and public partnerships to deliver a full scope of services.

Julie Sysco, chief executive officer of the Havenwyck Hospital, echoed the importance of community partners to deliver quality services. Havenwyck Hospital is a licensed psychiatric and substance abuse facility providing behavioral health and substance abuse services for children, adolescents, and adults.

Seema Sadanandan, managing director of the Alliance for Safety and Justice (ASJ), works to create new pathways for public safety that elevate the needs of crime survivors. ASJ is a national crime survivor organization that advances a balanced approach to justice.

Sadanandan stated a large portion of Michigan’s public safety dollars are focused on corrections rather than prevention and healing services. She provided a range of recommendations including incentivizing treatment of incarcerated people, removing prohibitions that inhibit people from working or securing occupational licenses, and using validated evidence-based practices to make decisions throughout the criminal justice system.

Amy Conkright, co-founder of Still Standing Against Domestic Violence, shared her personal experience with violence in the home and how it was perpetuated in her adult life. Still Standing is a nonprofit organization serving men, women, and children affected by domestic violence through education, prevention, and awareness.Conkright advocated for solutions that focus on rehabilitating individuals, families, and communities.

Dionne Wilson, national crime survivor advocate at the Alliance for the Safety and Justice, provided powerful testimony about her experience as the widow of a police officer who lost his life in the line of duty. She shared her personal journey of healing which led to her support of new safety priorities. Wilson did not find restoration in the death sentence received by the man who killed her husband. She said:

It did not repair the harm. When I realized it didn’t fix it. I pulled back and realized there was so many more opportunities in the life of the young man that killed my husband.

She commended Rep. Kesto for “getting in front of the drivers of crime and really addressing them.” She concluded by saying:

The policies we have had over the past 20 – 30 years have not made our communities safer.

Additional personal success stories were shared by Stephanie Laird, advocate, Deb Monroe, chief executive officer of Recovery Concepts, and Stacy Burns, president of the Drug Free All Stars. All expressed the importance of the community services they received in their healing process.