However, we have known for nearly two decades that the mental health and juvenile justice system—designed as a safety net to prevent societal violence—was in disarray. State officials are aware of this and fail to act.
The US Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, has released a new Consultant Surgeon General to highlight the urgent need to address the mental health crisis of young people in the country. Alarms are sounding and our leaders are failing to act.
Ross Jones, an investigative reporter for WXYZ in Detroit, has repeatedly documented the lack of suitable outpatient and inpatient child psychiatric treatment beds available for children diagnosed with severe emotional problems. In emergency rooms across Michigan, the same shameful scene is repeated over and over again, just as it has for years without any action being taken to fix the problem.
Children in need are often piled like a rope of wood in hospital emergency rooms as staff frantically search for a long-term facility to adequately meet their desperate needs.
Finding a psychiatric hospital bed for children and teens in need is like being Marie and Joseph – always looking for shelter on December 24th.
Since 2014, Ross Jones and the Channel 7 Action News team in Detroit have been reporting stories of children forced into hospital emergency rooms while waiting for a psychiatric bed to admit them, and the problem has worsened. Not to mention the growing number of needy children whose parents are valiantly trying to make ends meet at home, feeling like they are sitting on a ‘ticking time bomb’ as one mum told me.
Added to this is a shortage of child psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers to treat needy children in schools and community clinics. This shortage has been exacerbated during the pandemic, and many professionals have left their jobs due to intense stress, constant demands, and long working hours for low pay.
There is a lot of “might have been” being noted on social media about missing references that may have prevented the Oxford tragedy.
Sadly, we’ve had a social safety net system for child and teen care torn for years, bypassing Republican and Democratic administrations, with no action by either addressing problems—problems those in our state Capitol don’t know about. responsibility to address it.
Families and children are crying out for hope and the best we can offer them is an emergency room stay, a short stay in the hospital or a residential stay with out of the house, only to see the cycle start all over again.
Instead of addressing these known problems, the Republican legislature, led by Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirky, has been trying to funnel more than $3 billion of our tax dollars currently managed by the public mental health system to private earnings insurers as a “fix” to the system. Unsupported and insufficiently funded care. Senate Bill 597 and 598 would privatize all Medicaid mental health services by granting full financial control and supervisory decision-making to for-profit insurers with the effect of enriching shareholders and for-profit-driven insurance managers. It will not meet the desperate needs of children and families for help. Taking advantage of general mental health will only exacerbate existing problems.
Private for-profit insurance companies cannot be trusted to put the needs of children with mental health issues first. When I look at my 401(k), I want the companies I invest in to do well. But I don’t want them to be good on the backs of some of the most vulnerable children in our society.
There are countless studies done on the problem of the lack of treatment options for some of Michigan’s most vulnerable and emotionally disturbed children. There are plans and reports gathering dust on the shelves in state offices and there is experience to solve this problem. What is lacking is a legislative champion or state governor to fix a broken, dysfunctional, and underfunded system to care for and support children and families in need.
The experience and knowledge is there to fix the problem. What is lacking is the political will.
One part of the solution is to provide accessible and affordable community and hospital care to children and families in need.
There is experience in state government, hospital systems, nonprofit behavioral health agencies, and juvenile justice agencies ready to act when political will, funding, and leadership emerge.
Perhaps the Oxford tragedy will become the stimulus needed to work to improve juvenile justice and behavioral care systems.
I call on Governor Gretchen Whitmer and legislative leaders to pull the plans shelved at the Department of Health and Human Services and with the pain of the recent tragedy still fresh in our minds, fix the broken system before more lives are lost. Families are devastated.