Our area needs mental health support

It’s no secret our region has been in desperate need of closer, more accessible mental health care.

There are only five state psychiatric facilities in our state and not one is located in northern Michigan or the Upper Peninsula. Michigan provides mental health care to our region from state facilities located in the southern part of our state. Sadly, our northern Michigan counties have shockingly higher rates of suicide compared to the rest of the state, yet we’re the furthest away from any of those hospitals which could help make a difference.

After bringing together a bipartisan workgroup of legislators during my first term in office, a placeholder was dedicated in the budget to plan for a satellite state psychiatric facility in the north, a first step toward addressing the lack of care for our residents. In due diligence, I followed up with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer shortly after she took office to emphasize that access to mental health care was sorely needed in northern Michigan. While the governor approved funds to repair the psychiatric facility in Caro and expand several other existing state hospitals, she ultimately refused to develop our satellite facility, continuing to ignore the needs of northern Michigan.

That is insulting to me and to the people of our area who are all too often forgotten about by the Lansing elite.

Convenient access to a state psychiatric hospital — satellite or otherwise — for those of us in the north is abysmal.

From the furthest point of the Upper Peninsula, it takes eight hours to drive — sometimes longer during extreme weather — to the closest facility dedicated to our people. It’s far too costly for our local governments and law enforcement when a transport is needed, as they must foot the cost of the transport and provide staff for the transport. Not to mention that, once residents are transported downstate, they have no support system from their friends and family members, because it’s simply too far away.

Once again, northern Michigan and Upper Peninsula residents have been placed on the back burner. That is unacceptable. Ignoring the problem will lead to continued suicides, increased crime, and more costs to everyone.

The focus of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services should be to ensure mental health services are available for all citizens in the state, not just the areas that are most populated. It’s impractical for the people of our region to count on downstate facilities as viable options for care. A state-operated facility in northern Michigan would immediately improve access to mental health care for citizens in 42 Michigan counties.

Northern Michigan has a significant amount of state-owned land and many private parcels suitable for construction of a new state psychiatric facility, and freeway access is ideal in many areas along I-75 and other highways. There are options and communities are ready to work with the governor’s administration in finding a location that is suitable for our needs.

We simply cannot sit by and continue to allow northern Michigan’s vulnerable residents to be neglected. I’m calling on the governor to acknowledge and proceed with the satellite state psychiatric facility in our region, and think about the many suffering residents with nowhere to turn.

State Rep. Sue Allor, R-Wolverine, represents the 106th state House District, which includes Alpena, Presque Isle, Alcona, and Iosco counties, as well as part of Cheboygan County.