KEWEENAW COUNTY — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in her State of the State Address this week proposed policies to invest in mental health and grow Michigan’s mental health workforce.
Whitmer said it is necessary to invest in the state’s mental health workforce in order to ensure that Michigan residents have the support and resources they need to thrive.
“Every Michigander deserves access to both mental and physical healthcare,” Whitmer said. “To boost access, we need to expand the Michigan State Loan Repayment Program, build on our work to hire more counselors, social workers, and psychologists on school campuses, and implement parts of my MI Healthy Communities proposal to increase capacity for community-based behavioral health.”
This should come as good news to residents of the western Upper Peninsula. In early May, 2021, the Keweenaw County Sheriff’s Office published a post on its social media page in reference to a “young person” who had driven a vehicle into a stand of trees in its jurisdiction at nearly 100 miles per hour. At the time, Sheriff Curt Pennala said the main reason for the post was his department’s expressing its frustration, and to raise awareness of what law enforcement is dealing with, as well as what the public is also dealing with. When his officers are working and someone is deemed to be a risk or a harm to themselves or somebody else, the person is taken into protective custody and transported to the nearest hospital for mental health evaluation, Pennala explained.
“In the past month, we have transported several people who were looking for help, to be evaluated by our local Mental Health,” Pennala said in an interview last May. “Do you want to take a guess on how many received treatments? None. When are we going to have a meaningful discussion on the broken Mental Health system in Michigan?”
Pennala said he wants to be clear that this is not aimed at CCMH.
“They do a fantastic job,” he said. “I believe that they have their hands tied by a lack of funding and a lack of resources,” then added that the people and agencies his office works with share the same frustrations. “In our local community, I think a lot of people share the frustration of the lack of mental health resources available.”
A Wednesday release from the governor’s office echoed the sentiments spoken by Pennala nearly a year ago.
Jane Frank, executive director for the Association for Children’s Mental Health was quoted in the governor’s release as saying mental health is just as important as physical health, and “we applaud Governor Whitmer’s proposals to help millions of Michigan children and families get the services and
support they need. Beyond just helping Michiganders pay for quality mental health services, Governor Whitmer also recognizes that many communities lack access to trained mental health professionals. Again, the governor is putting Michiganders first by proposing programs to end that disparity”.
The release says that Whitmer wants every person in Michigan to have access to the healthcare that they deserve, both mental and physical, and will work with anyone to get Michiganders the care they deserve.
She is also calling for an expansion of the Michigan State Loan Repayment Program (MSLRP) program to focus on behavioral health providers and an increase to funding for mental health professionals in Michigan schools. The expansion will help retain or recruit hundreds of mental health care
providers to Michigan. Last year, Whitmer also proposed MI Healthy Communities, a $1.4 billion proposal that would increase capacity for community-based behavioral health and substance use disorder treatments.
Pennala last year went beyond the governor’s hopes for an expansion of the states mental health services. Last May he said that he believes it is time that society recognizes that seeking help with mental health is no different than seeking medical assistance. That too was mentioned in the governor’s office release.
“We recognize, more and more every day, that there is no health without mental health,” Dr. Gregory Dalack, Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Michigan, is quoted as saying. “We applaud Governor Whitmer’s proposal to expand access to mental health coverage in the State of Michigan. This is a major, important step in the effort to improve access and reduce the cost of mental health and substance use disorder treatment for Michiganders.”
The Sheriff’s Office post last May made a direct appeal to the public at large:
“We are asking that you help us start the discussion locally,” the post stated. “Contact your state representatives. Contact your mental health board and help us figure out how we can fix this problem. These are our brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters who are crying out for help. We owe it to ourselves to make a change.”