A new report from a bi-partisan task force co-chaired by a local lawmaker aims to reduce barriers to access mental health care, enhance current services, and improve current programs.

State Representative Hank Vaupel chairs the House Health Policy Committee and is one of the co-chairs of the C.A.R.E.S. or Community, Access, Resources, Education, Safety Task Force. The task force recently unveiled a report and recommendations to make significant improvements to what many feel is Michigan’s broken mental health system. Vaupel, a Handy Township Republican, and other members of the Task Force took part in public meeting and site visits across the state to get an understanding of where vulnerable residents are lacking care and resources. The goal was also to collect feedback to craft meaningful solutions moving forward that cross issue areas and address the many concerns heard over the last five months.

Vaupel says the needs of the mental health community are long overdue and he looks forward to future changes that will result because of the stories so bravely shared. He says the report offer solutions to problems brought forward by real people, officials and organizations impacted by mental health care in the state. Vaupel says access to services is so important but there is a shortage of people who work in the mental health field for a lot of reasons, so one goal is to try and eliminate some of the barriers to that. For example, he says case managers must only have a degree in social work. He says people with a master’s degree in other areas are not eligible to be case managers through Community Mental Health, so that’s one barrier they want to try to eliminate.

Some items identified in the report include eliminating barriers to increase access to mental health care, improve training, provide additional treatment to convicts with mental health challenges both during and after incarceration, and create a statewide crisis hotline to connect people in need with local services. Vaupel says expanding the use of “telehealth” services will be beneficial, which refers to the use of electronic information and communications technologies to link patients with health care professionals in other locations. He says telehealth is very important and key in this, especially to get prisoners evaluated earlier as opposed to letting them sit for months or longer waiting to be evaluated to determine if they should be sent to a hospital or kept in jail.

The report is intended to serve as a blueprint for policy changes and legislation that will be introduced in the next several months but also establish frame work to further enhance mental health services in the future.

Vaupel is pictured with other task force members for the unveiling of the C.A.R.E.S. report during a press conference in the Capitol building. The full report is attached. A link to the Task Force web page is also provided, which includes summaries of the various meetings held. (JM)