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MI Senate leader sets mental health overhaul as priority

Michigan state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey
Al Goldis
Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) says the quality of care right now depends largely on where a patient lives.

The Michigan Senate will begin hearings soon on a proposed overhaul of publicly funded mental health services. There are lots of different ideas on how to fix the system, but there is one area of wide agreement: The current approach is not working.

A mental health system overhaul is a key area of interest for Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake), who says the quality of care right now depends largely on where a patient lives. The system is managed by county mental health boards.

Shirkey says he wants to see more private sector options, and more integration of services.

“Quite frankly, a lot of the physical health problems and costs are driven by inadequate care on the mental health side,” he said Monday in a telephone interview.

Shirkey says any cost savings should be re-invested in the mental health system.

“They’ve been inundated with demands and we have a dearth of a certain level of providers in Michigan, and this will also help us, I believe, help us recruit people because they’ll see the change in the system and there won’t be such a patchwork of services across the state.”

Shirkey says the COVID-19 crisis has helped highlight problems in how mental health services are delivered in Michigan.

Critics say the Senate GOP approach would place too much decision-making with insurance companies.

But anything the Republican-led Senate comes up with will require bipartisan support because it will have to be signed into law by Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.