As Michigan wraps up an important election, lawmakers in Lansing are already choosing caucus leaders, forming oversight committees and considering top funding priorities for the fiscal year 2022.
During the previous eight months of COVID-19, I have been grateful to have had the ear of Michigan’s compassionate state and federal lawmakers, heads of state departments and local and county elected officials to hear our grassroots, play-by-play updates about COVID-19’s impact on the emotional lives of our community’s consumers of care and caregivers, like those employed by Hegira Health.
The behavioral health community urges the state legislature to recognize that the public health impact of COVID-19 is just beginning. It is critical to focus additional efforts and resources to support its citizens’ mental health and well-being.
The inadequacy of state funds to provide needed care to our most vulnerable populations has been a devolving health care crisis in our state that existed long before this pandemic and—if left unaddressed—will have a long-lasting impact on hundreds of thousands of Michiganders.
It is more critical now, under COVID-19 than ever before, that the funds are secured to serve children with serious emotional disorders and their families, adults with mental illness and or substance use disorders and people of all ages with developmental disabilities.
Those who understand the negative impact of inadequate mental health services know the consequences of ignoring this statewide health crisis.
Lack of support will threaten not only the stability of Michigan’s mental health system but will undoubtedly impact opportunities in employment, education, incarceration rates, family stability and community structure for staggering numbers of Michigan’s citizens.
While Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and leaders from both sides of the aisle have stated that mental health services are an essential part of the government’s response to COVID-19, community mental health programs charged with the responsibility of service delivery require increased financial support to address the pandemic-related, predictably long-term, mental health consequences in our communities.
The isolation that has been the solution to minimizing the virus’s spread has wrought havoc on our people. National studies project an increase in Michigan’s deaths — we’ve witnessed a 35 percent increase in opioid-related emergency room visits, liquor sales have climbed, and domestic violence is on the rise.
We are only beginning to connect the impact of COVID-19 on the decreased physical and cognitive functioning of our elderly, not due to contracting the virus but due to isolation, inactivity and fear. Our children who depend on social workers and psychologists to identify their needs and secure their safety and well-being have been living in isolation with the people from whom they need protection.
We need our state’s help to stabilize the provider network and prevent the closure of any additional programs. Community health organizations need financial assistance to hire quality staff and remain fiscally stable in an increasingly competitive wage environment.
We need the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to remove regulatory rules and barriers that prevent on-the-ground providers from effectively performing their jobs.
While the demand for mental health services has grown dramatically over the past several years, the funding for the public mental health system responsible for meeting those needs has not. COVID-19 has stressed our already stretched system to its breaking point.
Before COVID-19, Michigan’s mental health system was underfunded, understaffed, and overwhelmed. Given the impact on our front-line health care workers, those impacted by COVID-19 directly and everyone experiencing the trauma of this pandemic, we need to find ways to strengthen the behavioral health network.
We encourage our state’s leadership to shift its focus to address the current and future mental health of Michiganders, young and old. For 50 years, Hegira Health has been on the front line of protecting our community’s health and safety. For many, the state’s stressed mental health network is the primary health care source for individuals with mental illnesses and substance use disorders.
Michigan’s leadership needs to step up to the plate and do more, especially in the face of the pandemic, to strengthen systemic support mechanisms and create a Michigan that prioritizes its mental health. Our future depends on it.