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State proposes smaller psychiatric hospital in Thumb region

By DAVID EGGERTJuly 30, 2019

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration recommended Tuesday that a state psychiatric hospital in Michigan’s Thumb region be downsized, either by upgrading the facility or building a new one.

The proposal was made more than four months after the state Department of Health and Human Services paused construction of a new $115 million, 200-bed hospital in Caro just months after its groundbreaking, drawing criticism from Republican lawmakers and others who feared the new Democratic governor would move to close the existing hospital. New leaders in the agency cited staffing shortages and recruitment barriers in the rural area, along with concerns that too many patients’ family members live far away from the existing hospital.

An outside consultant was hired to review the project.

Rather than expand the 150-bed facility, the Whitmer administration on Tuesday proposed having a smaller 84-bed hospital through new construction or a large-scale renovation. Sixty-one beds would be shifted to other state psychiatric hospitals closer to major population centers, and 55 additional people would receive care in other settings. The plan would require legislative approval.

“These recommendations will sustain and strengthen the Caro community’s historic role in providing psychiatric care,” said Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon. “They will also improve the quality of mental health services at state hospitals, while expanding community-based care. Finally, the recommendations will achieve their results at significantly lower cost than the Legislature previously anticipated, allowing for additional investment in other urgent health priorities.”

The Caro Center, one of five state psychiatric hospitals, opened more than 100 years ago and currently treats 92 adults with serious mental illnesses. Under a budget plan approved by the Legislature in 2017, construction of a new hospital in Caro, 35 miles (56.32 kilometers) northeast of Flint, was to be completed in 2021. Then-Gov. Rick Snyder attended a groundbreaking in October.

Under the new proposal, Gordon said, the state would spend between $60 million and $85 million — $30 to $55 million less than the $115 million previously authorized by legislators.

A union leader said he was “thrilled” with the decision to keep the hospital in operation, saying he was proud of workers who mobilized by “standing up for what was right.”

“While we are thrilled the hospital will remain operational, we remain concerned by the proposed decrease in beds at the facility,” said AFSCME Council 25 President Lawrence Roehrig. “When you elect kind-hearted and compassionate leaders, you don’t always get everything you want, but you know they are looking out for working people.”

Rep. Phil Green, a Millington Republican whose district includes the hospital, was critical of the latest plan, calling it a “back door closure” of the facility. He had said it employs more than 300 workers.

“I urge the governor to reconsider her decision and think carefully about the people who rely on the exceptional care that the Caro Center has provided to Michigan residents for decades,” he said.

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Follow Eggert on Twitter at https://twitter.com/DavidEggert00

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