Mich. mental health panel makes recommendations

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LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan should better unify health services for the mentally disabled, give priority to military veterans and children who need help, and eradicate the phrase “mental retardation” from state law, Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration and a bipartisan group of legislators said Tuesday.

The recommendations were among nearly 60 improvements proposed by a mental health commission that spent eight months studying gaps in the delivery of mental health services in the state. The panel appointed by Snyder put forth only proposals that both Republicans and Democrats on the commission could agree on, including directing state officials to consult with K-12 districts to develop best practices on the ratio of school psychologists, counselors and social workers to students.

“Our systems don’t talk to each other. The information doesn’t flow from one agency to another to allow for the appropriate suite of services or coordination of care around that individual,” said Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, who co-chaired the panel.

Calley, whose young daughter has autism, told reporters at the Capitol that the takeaway from the report should not be that new services are needed but that existing services must be coordinated and better organized. Lawmakers are expected to move quickly on some recommendations; they held an initial hearing later Tuesday.

Of the 86,000-plus homeless in Michigan, thousands have a mental illness, developmental disability or substance abuse disorder, according to the report. It recommended that the state provide 500 new housing units over the next three years for the homeless and make them a priority population for local Community Mental Health Services Programs, which coordinate government-funded mental health treatment.

Michigan has nearly 700,000 veterans, more than 45,000 who served in recent wars. The commission urged that the Michigan Veteran Trust Fund, which offers temporary aid to wartime veterans and their families, clearly state that mental health care services are an acceptable “undue hardship” veterans can point to when applying for assistance.

Sen. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, said one goal is to end the “siloing” of special education funding so it can be used more for early intervention. She also said more than 70 percent of seventh-graders with a mental illness or behavioral health problem first showed signs by second grade.

“So we need our schools to be prepared to help be the early intervenors,” Warren said.

Snyder is not the first governor to address the state’s mental health system. A commission appointed by then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm made proposals in 2004, but many were not implemented.

“We said, ‘Let’s start fresh.’ There’s some parallels to the past, but a lot of this is information for the future,” said Michigan Department of Community Health Director James Haveman.

A relatively simply proposal is purging references to mental retardation or variations of it from Michigan laws and replacing it with the phrase “developmental disability” or a variation.

Kimberly Purdy, chief marketing and development officer for Special Olympics Michigan, said Michigan is among just a handful of states to not have already passed such legislation.

“We can’t expect to eliminate the use of the ‘R’ word if it’s not eliminated from places like our laws,” she said.

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