Genesee County pursues new state psychiatric hospital

GENESEE COUNTY — The Genesee County Board of Commissioners is moving forward with a plan that could bring a new mental health facility to mid-Michigan.

At a public works committee meeting held last Wednesday, the commissioners voted unanimously to advocate for the construction of a new state-funded psychiatric hospital in Genesee County.

Originally, the state had planned to construct a facility in Caro to replace the currently operating Caro Center psychiatric hospital. But Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced in March that the project was being delayed until a consultant with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services could reassess the proposed location.

This has given Genesee County the chance to pursue a proposal for the $115 million project.

Genesee County Commissioner Martin Cousineau, who is the Board of Commissioners’ public works committee chairman, said that the area’s central location, infrastructure and skilled labor force makes Genesee County an appropriate location for the new facility.

“So many patients at the Caro Center come from Genesee County and Oakland County,” he said. “We’re at the crossroads with our expressways, making it easier to get access here (to mental health treatment) instead of a remote area in Caro.

“One problem with the site in Caro is that they struggle to retain skilled workers, doctors and nurses,” Cousineau added. “We have a more populated area down here and can retain skilled positions.”

Cousineau also said that new a psychiatric hospital would help to solve overcrowding issues at the Genesee County Jail.

“Up to 80 percent of inmates in the county jail have mental health issues, but we don’t have anywhere else to put them” he said. “Having a facility here would help us to divert those people to a place where they could get treatment and reduce our dependence on putting them in the county jail.”

The Board of Commissioners, in conjunction with Judge Jennie Barkey, will be working with its county delegation in the Michigan State Legislature to develop a proposal that shows the cost-savings and benefits of building a state-run mental health facility in Genesee County.

Barkey, a Genesee County probate judge who created the first Mental Health Court in Michigan, has been instrumental in crafting a plan that could appeal to the state. She said that Genesee County is the most ideal location for the new facility because families won’t have to travel as far to see loved ones who are undergoing mental health treatment.

“In my more than 10 years on the bench, strong community and family support can often be the key to stability and improvement,” she said. “Building this new facility in Genesee County and making it accessible along major transportation corridors is the right thing to do.”

As of yet, the Board of Commissioners has not discussed specific locations for a psychiatric hospital in Genesee County.