Detroit failed to secure backing from Michigan’s record-breaking $81.7 billion 2024 budget for a long-term psychiatric care project officials pitched as a priority to address a rise in mental health-related incidents.
According to public safety reports, more than 10,300 Detroiters have called for emergency services for mental health-related reasons this year — a trend that has continued upward since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
In April, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan joined officials with the Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network, who claim to be the largest community mental health organization in Michigan, to announce a $227 million plan to expand long and short-term treatment. The funding would create a total of 450 beds, including specialized housing and in-patient care.
The request was directed toward Michigan Democrats, who had their first opportunity in decades to shape the state budget under newfound control of the Legislature and executive branch.
“We know that this is a tremendous ask but it’s a tremendous need,” Wayne County Executive Warren Evans said in his remarks during the announcement.
Instead, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “Make it in Michigan” budget allocated zero funding for the effort going into 2024. As dozens of local leaders gathered for the budget’s signing in Wyandotte, Duggan was notably absent.
A representative for Duggan said the mayor was summoned to serve jury duty that day.
“It seems like at campaign time everybody wants to talk about mental health,” Duggan told WDET. “But when it came time to set in the budget priorities, somehow that didn’t make it.”
The funding request was projected to reach 62,000 individuals in all, nearly doubling DWIHN’s bed capacity. The organization identified more than 1,400 repeat users of Detroit’s emergency services who cycle through a “revolving door” of mental health care and criminal justice systems.
Duggan said Detroit’s mental health treatment capacity was curtailed in 1992 when then-Governor John Engler shut down the Lafayette Clinic in downtown Detroit. But subsequent leadership has done little to change past mistakes.
“At some point, we have a responsibility to say we need these long-term treatment beds. Let’s re-open them and stop blaming the guy from the last millennium,” Duggan urges.
In a recent speech outlining her fall agenda, Whitmer prioritized Michigan’s ability to maintain insurance coverage for mental health treatment, as part of a broader plan to write the federal Affordable Care Act into state law.
“Every Michigander deserves quality, affordable care,” said Whitmer.
Whitmer’s “What’s Next Address” stopped short of outlining new efforts addressing psychiatric care capacity. Representatives for the governor said the state is improving long-term mental health care access in Southeast Michigan through previously announced efforts and other statewide resources.
“The budget [Whitmer] signed in July expands access to critical mental and behavioral health resources, including a $5 million investment in the Michigan Crisis and Access Line (MiCAL), Michigan’s 24/7 crisis line,” Whitmer’s press secretary Stacey LaRouche said in a statement.
“The budget also increases the reimbursement rate for psychiatric beds and trauma centers, supports substance use treatment programs, and makes record mental health investments in K-12 schools, increasing accessibility of services,” LaRouche continued.
Last year, Whitmer allocated $325 million to build a new psychiatric facility complex to replace the Hawthorn Center in Northville. The hospital is set to combine patients with the Walter Reuther Psychiatric Hospital in Westland, which is closing due to aging infrastructure after opening in 1979.
The consolidation of the two facilities, which is set to be completed in 2026, would bring the five state-operated inpatient psychiatric hospitals down to four.
“Something needs to happen while we’re in the majority.” – State Rep. Karen Whitsett (D-Detroit)
State lawmakers involved in crafting public health policy called the lack of funding for Michigan’s largest city “devastating.”
“I don’t think that the current administration is addressing mental health in a way that it should be addressed at all,” said State Rep. Karen Whitsett, a Detroit Democrat and Majority Vice Chair of the Michigan House’s Health Policy Committee. “Something needs to happen while we’re in the majority.”
Whitsett argued the lack of Detroit-specific mental health funding has led to increased investment in surveillance technology and policing. The Detroit Police Department received more than $3 million from the state’s latest budget to hire more than two dozen police officers, many specializing in crisis intervention.
“The police are dealing with it. People in the community are dealing with it. People are dealing with it with family members,” Whitsett says. “It’s not going to change without change being made.”
According to DPD’s most recent figures, the city received more than 5,000 calls for violent mental-related emergencies this year, with 1,100 involving a weapon. More than 1,880 suicide threats were called in as of Aug. 20, and 1,120 “suicides in progress.”
WDET reporter Quinn Klinefelter contributed to this story.