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      Improving mental health services in the Upper Peninsula

      Greg Toutant, Executive Director for the Great Lakes Recover Centers

      Governor Rick Snyder has created a six-member Mental Health and Wellness Commission. Those members, including Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley, were in Marquette on Monday. They listened to the needs and concerns from people in the U.P. who work on a day-to-day basis with mental health patients.

      One of the biggest concerns came from Marquette County Sheriff Michael Lovelace who said around 85 percent of the people coming in and out of the Marquette County Jail are dealing with substance abuse and/or a mental illness.

      Over the past year, Sheriff Lovelace said there were 14 suicide attempts in the jail.

      "The mentally ill do not belong in jail. There are people who've committed a crime. We need to treat their illness, not lock them in jails with criminals. It's an extreme amount of high stress on our staff. We are trained, but we're not psych nurses," said Lovelace.

      Lovelace also added that the former Marquette County Community Corrections Detention Center could be used as a much more secure treatment facility for violent, mentally ill patients.

      Marquette General Hospital (MGH) has 24 adult beds in use for mentally ill patients. The Director of Mental Health at MGH, Cameron Wilcox, said six more beds would be available if the hospital could hire more psychiatrists. The hospital currently has two full-time psychiatrists.

      Another concern was affordable housing for adults with autism.

      "A stable and safe environment will help ensure the safety and success for anyone, but for people with autism, it is critical," said Rick Clifton, from Bridgewood group home.

      After the meeting, Lieutenant Governor Calley said the commission will work to help close the gaps within the current mental health services.

      "I think public/private partnerships are a big part of the answer and the future to where we really need to be dedicated to doing things differently than the way we've done it in the past and being more effective with the dollars that we have, but also taking advantage of opportunities such as the changes in Medicaid eligibility that are being debated before the senate this week," said Calley.

      A report on the information gathered from each meeting will be presented by December 20.