On September 11, health and law enforcement professionals testified before the House C.A.R.E.S. (Community, Access, Resources, Education, and Safety) Task Force at the Team Wellness Center in Detroit. The Team Wellness Center provides an array of comprehensive behavioral and physical health services in an environment that promotes quality of life, continuous improvement, and social awareness. National and Detroit leaders called for continued criminal justice reforms and investment in services that prevent crime and help crime survivors heal.

Ed Saleh, vice president of specialty pharmacy business at MedCart Specialty Pharmacy, presented a patient centered approach to pharmaceutical services that explains the benefits of adhering to a treatment plan and to the prescribed course of medication to clients. MedCart Specialty Pharmacy follows patients throughout their treatment plan to provide continuous support. MedCart Specialty Pharmacy is a pharmaceutical and healthcare provider serving the needs of patients with complex diseases.

Several people described the challenges facing residents in their region, including Julia Kyle, director of integrated healthcare; Tim Killeen, board member; and Dana Lasenby interim chief executive officer at the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority (DWMHA).

DWMHA has 80,000 consumers representing 27 percent of the state population. This population experiences poverty, a high rate of infant mortality, and chronic health issues. DWMHA provides a full array of services and supports to adults with mental illness, individuals with developmental disabilities, children with serious emotional disturbances, and persons with substance use disorders.

DWMHA staff said the limited number of crisis beds is a significant issue. Currently, they have 12 crisis residential beds, which do not meet the needs of the region. Lasenby said there is a need to improve the communication and information sharing across the systems operated by behavioral and physical health providers.

Aswad Thomas, chapter development and membership director at the Alliance for Safety and Justice which, as noted above, is a national organization advancing a new safety agenda, shared his personal story as a crime survivor. He grew up playing basketball in Detroit. In 2009, he prepared to play professional basketball in Europe after his college graduation. His life suddenly changed course, when he was shot twice in the back while leaving a convenience store in Connecticut.

He was not offered any trauma recovery services while at the hospital or upon release home. He said:

The pain and anger caused by trauma can all too often result in crime that rips apart communities like mine in Highland Park. Young men of color are often seen as dangerous, but the truth is we are the most harmed and the least helped.

He urged Task Force members to invest in balanced services that create safe communities. He further encouraged the voices of the communities hardest hit by crime to be at the center of policy development.

Dr. Tolulope Sonuyi, an emergency medicine physician at DMC Sinai Grace Hospital, established DLIVE (Detroit Life is Valuable Everyday) a hospital-based, community focused violence intervention initiative in partnership with Detroit Medical Center – Sinai Grace Hospital and the Wayne State University Department of Emergency Medicine. DLIVE offers a multidisciplinary and integrated violence prevention approach.

Dr. Sonuyi described the cyclical nature of violence, noting most people are treated and released back into the community without intervention or services. He said:

We must invest in evidence-based and unapologetic solutions to promote community safety. The best way to intervene in violence is to swim upstream and approach the drivers of crime. 

Ray Winans, violence intervention specialist at DLIVE, shared his personal story – one filled with exposure to trauma and violence – that ultimately resulted in his incarceration. Winans now mentors young people in the Detroit community. He encouraged the Task Force to understand “hurt people, hurt people and healed people, heal people.” He further called for investments in services for crime victims, specifically trauma recovery centers.

Andrea Clark, founder of Mothers of Murdered Children, spoke of the hopelessness and lack of opportunities offered to young people in her community. Mothers of Murdered Children support victims of violent crimes and strive to reduce the number of homicides of children in Detroit. She said:

Our communities have been devastated by crime and violence. Too many families have been pushed aside by the justice system.

She urged Task Force members to invest in a justice system that holds people accountable and prioritizes rehabilitation over punishment. Clark called for crime prevention services and services that help crime survivors heal.

Detroit Police Department representatives said that mental illness is a significant issue that requires long-term community-based solutions.

Michael Garrett, chief executive officer of Community Network Services, a nonprofit human services agency that provides comprehensive behavioral health services, spoke on the trauma experienced by crime survivors. He said:

Post-traumatic stress disorder is the inability to heal or recover from experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event. Many people associate this with soldiers in war, but this can also be the reality for people living in an urban center. 

Garrett said the mental health system could be improved through increased access and improved consistency. Many of the service providers are not well advertised to the public, which limits the ability of residents to access services. He further noted criteria should be established to ensure services for people with mild, moderate, and severe mental illness are consistently administered and services across regions should be equitable.