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MI Senate leader sets mental health overhaul as priority

Michigan state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey
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.