Michigan House moves along 5 mental health bills

February 28, 2018

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan lawmakers approved legislation Wednesday that would upgrade mental health resources in hospitals and schools as part of a slew of reform bills shuffling through the state House.

One of the five bills passed in Lansing would create an electronic database for the state’s inpatient psychiatric bed registry. Representatives voted 106-3 for the measure, which aims to streamline hospital placement and emergency room wait times for psychiatric patients.

Overseen by Michigan’s Health and Human Services department, the electronic registry would be categorized by specific patient needs, based on gender, age, severity of symptoms and diagnosis.

Bill sponsor Rep. Mary Whiteford said the initiative will ensure efficient application of state resources.

“This doesn’t add more psychiatric beds,” said Whiteford, a Casco Township Republican. “But this gives us a chance to utilize every single one.”

Whiteford, who is also a registered nurse, was part of the House bipartisan mental health task force that presented a litany of recommendations earlier this year, including the bed registry initiative. She said every emergency room professional who spoke to the task force endorsed the improved bed registry.

Alan Bolter, associate director of the Community Mental Health Association of Michigan, said his organization’s members were “finding when they call to place someone in an inpatient hospital setting that they’re having to make nine, 10 phone calls.”

“It can be quite a long time that someone’s waiting to find a bed at a time when they are in crisis,” Bolter said.

Testimony on the legislation revealed Michigan psychiatric patients have waited in emergency rooms for weeks on end for a hospital bed assignment at times, sometimes even being moved out of state.

Another bill requiring all public schools in Michigan to adopt a mental health first-aid course for teachers also cleared the House by a 107-2 vote. The legislation would implement an optional course on recognizing and responding to mental illness symptoms as part of training for teachers.

Teachers electing to enroll would familiarize themselves with mental illness risk factors and warning signs as well as protocol on administering aid to individuals undergoing a mental health crisis. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Sylvia Santana, also a member of the mental health task force.

The Democrat from Detroit said the proposal intends to curb both adolescent suicide and campus gun violence, a topic once again brought to national attention this month following the mass shooting at a school in Parkland, Florida.

“This is a way we can help identify some of those key areas — depression, anxiety, things of that nature — that might trigger a student to react negatively,” Santana said. “When it comes to gun violence that is a key issue that we need to address as a nation.”

The bill does not mandate suicide prevention training for teachers, a standard enacted in just over half of all states but not Michigan.

Three bills that enact time limits on psychological evaluations for court defendants and potential prison parolees also passed.

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