MARQUETTE — State Rep. Sara Cambensy, D-Marquette, hosted a virtual town hall on Monday night to discuss where Michigan’s mental health system currently stands.
The session, which was held via Zoom, was the third of 11 stops on the Mental Health Listening Tour, a program hosted by Michigan House Democrats to “discuss the current state of our mental health system in Michigan, existing barriers and ideas for improvement,” organizers said.
Cambensy was joined on Monday’s panel by state Rep. Felicia Brabec, D-Pittsfield Township; Dr. Zakia Alavi, chief medical director of NorthCare Network, Mid-State Health Network and assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics and Human Development Medical Education at Michigan State University; Michael St. John, CEO of Pathways; Brian Foreman, behavioral health program manager at Upper Great Lakes Family Health Center; and Nate Michaels, a licensed mental health counselor at UP Health System – Marquette.
Each panelist outlined what they believe is wrong with the current mental health system and discussed ways it can be improved.
“This topic is near and dear to my heart,” Cambensy said. “It’s something that our office hears about every day in terms of what we need more of, where things are falling short, how people are slipping through the cracks, and also the push and pull we’re hearing from Lansing.
“There are some bill packages out there that look to drastically reform our mental health services, and I’m so grateful for my colleague, Rep. Brabec, because she has a lot of expertise in this background and she is taking the lead in our caucus to make sure that what we’re hearing and looking for stays the focus, and that we don’t implement anything that would hurt our services to our mental health patients.”
Brabec brings more than 25 years of experience working in the mental health field, serving in both private and public sectors.
“Before I even got to the Legislature and joined Rep. Cambensy, I was working with folks throughout the state around things to be able to improve for our consumers and their families,” Brabec said. “As Rep. Cambensy alluded to, that is our lens and that is our focus. How do we make the system … how do we improve things … the things that are working, how do we keep those the same and make sure they’re functioning as we want them to, and where are there opportunities for us to grow in terms of what we offer in our public system?
“Part of the reason why we’re doing this tour is that during the summer, when we were finding out about these other packages of bills, I started meeting with mental health stakeholders. And the thing that we heard that I got to hear the most was that stakeholders wanted to be involved in the process of creating legislation from the beginning rather than the end.
“That’s why we decided to do this listening tour, was to really engage our communities, our consumers, our secondary consumers, our providers, our CMHs (community mental health centers), our FQHCs (federally qualified health centers), our hospital systems … involve folks from the beginning so that we can have the most comprehensive look at this as we can for our consumers and their families.”
Brabec said legislation is currently being hashed out in both the Michigan House and Senate.
“We have two packages of bills, one that’s in the House, and one that’s in the Senate,” she said. “The goal after these 11 stops is to be able to introduce legislation for our colleagues to consider and have that be part of the discussion as we’re talking about what needs to be changed, what can stay the same and what opportunities for growth do we have.”
Senate Bills 597 and 598, along with House Bills 4925, 4926, 4927, 4928 and 4929 all aim to address the mental health system in Michigan. The bipartisan legislation is being led by Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and state Rep. Mary Whiteford, R-Casco Township.
The full Zoom session can be viewed at https://us06web.zoom.us/rec/share/XIJY3BpRy7VK8MHCw-_YAMBRLuUwzS4fb0aWcJZfyrMJLtZ_U48FEKhPF-dap81X.QoC90_6IH4PotTLZ with the passcode #BPD1X2$.