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New Cheboygan behavioral health unit aims to address care shortage

One of 18 new, in-patient behavioral health beds at McLaren's new unit on its Cheboygan campus.
Michael Livingston
One of 18 new, in-patient behavioral health beds at McLaren's new unit on its Cheboygan campus. (Photo: Michael Livingston/IPR News)

An 18-bed behavioral health unit in Cheboygan will soon help offset the severe lack of in-patient mental health care in northern Michigan.

Housed in the McLaren Hospital at 748 S Main St., the newly renovated 11,000-square-foot facility will take in patients with symptoms of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and other thought disorders, such as schizophrenia.

Officials say getting mental health care in northern Michigan remains extremely difficult. The sheer distance between inpatient beds and rural communities creates significant burdens.

Dennis Hesselink, chairman of the McLaren Northern Michigan Board of Trustees, said people seeking residential mental health care can be transported to a facility out of state or spend days in an emergency room bed until something opens up.

“A lot of people have to go a long way to get help. If you were sending your brother, your sister, or your mother someplace, it's very difficult for you to go see them,” Hesselink said. “But here, locally, we can take the people and the families can be around them, which is a huge positive.”

According to data from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, there are about 2,300 adult inpatient mental health beds in the state. Only 89 of those are north of Roscommon County.

The Cheboygan project broke ground in 2021. Now, the facility is fitted with both private and shared rooms, common spaces with bright blue furniture and a workstation for nurses and psychiatrists.

Project Director Laura Daniel said every decision was made with patient safety in mind down to what type of nails to use in the ceilings and type of material to use in the bedding.

“Everything in this unit is what’s called anti-ligature meaning nothing can be used to harm yourself or someone else,” she said.

The new unit cost over $13 million to plan and construct, largely funded through donors and a state grant. Daniel said she expects more investments in the Cheboygan campus as additional mental health programs roll out.

“I can see us just continuing to grow and really be a comprehensive behavioral health center,” she said. “It’s going to require the need to recruit more psychiatrists, more nurses, more social workers but we’re getting there.”

Daniel says the next phase of development may include more programs for youth mental health. The newly opened unit can currently only take in adults

The facility will start admitting patients June 3. A public ribbon cutting event is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. on Friday, May 26.

Michael Livingston covers the area around the Straits of Mackinac - including Cheboygan, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego counties as a Report for America corps member.