Northern Michigan seeks to expand services for rural communities

On September 29, health, veteran, and law enforcement professionals testified before the House C.A.R.E.S. (Community, Access, Resources, Education, and Safety) Task Force at Mid-Michigan Community College in Harrison and offered recommendations on how to improve services for people with mental illness.

J. Dee Brooks, prosecuting attorney for Midland County, said many people who require residential treatment are unable to access services and as result enter the justice system. He said:

People can decompensate and become worse when incarcerated. Placing someone in-custody with a severe mental health or substance abuse problem is not a long-term fix.

To prevent people unnecessarily entering the justice system, he called for crisis intervention training and a continuum of residential treatment beds. He advocated for jail diversion and mental health courts, noting also that it is difficult for small jurisdictions to implement specialty courts due to limited resources and capacity.

Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency (MVAA) staff described existing services for incarcerated veterans and those residing in the community. MVAA is a state government agency and operates as a central coordinating agency for Michigan veterans and their families.

Through a memorandum of understanding with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC), the MVAA provides services to identify incarcerated veterans eligible for benefits.  Veterans can receive a reduced monthly benefits claim while incarcerated and the MVAA works with veterans to request an adjustment to fully reinstate their claim upon release. MVAA staff noted, “We work to treat our incarcerated veteran population as the same as the non-incarcerated veteran population.

Craig Derror, program director of the Community Mental Health for Central Michigan, described challenges in the provision of comprehensive services in rural communities. Community Mental Health for Central Michigan offers integrated services to individuals with mental illness, developmental disability, and substance abuse disorders. He said rural communities do not have the same capacity as urban communities due to their smaller staffs. He said the strength in rural communities is the strong connections built with residents and leadership in the community.

Clare County Undersheriff Dwayne Miedzianowski supported the testimony of the previous professionals. He said members of law enforcement often do not have an alternative for people with mental health issues. He urged Task Force members to increase funding for a spectrum of options, including funding for training for law enforcement professionals working in the community.

Sydney Larsen, representing AuSable Valley Community Mental Health, described challenges faced by their region including long wait times for Medicaid beds and a limited pool of people with the appropriate training in the local workforce. AuSable Valley Community Mental Health Authority provides state-funded public mental health services in Iosco, Ogemaw, and Oscoda counties in Northern Michigan. She urged the Task Force to consider funding for a facility that expands available Medicaid beds. Larsen also advocated for addressing the educational requirements associated with the mental health profession, to help expand the number of qualified workers available locally.