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A Mindful State of Well-Being

Tom Walsh

In 2015, when John Fox moved from Georgia-based Emory Healthcare to become president and CEO of Beaumont Health in Michigan, he had his hands full integrating the eight hospitals, 145 outpatient sites, and 33,000 employees of the Beaumont, Oakwood, and Botsford systems that had recently merged in a $3.8 billion deal.

“We had a ton of work to do with the existing portfolio before we took on anything new,” Fox said.

However, at one of the first meetings he attended with several Michigan health care groups, mental health was the topic of discussion and a major frustration in the room.

“We were all suffering from the same issue,” he said. “We had ERs jammed with people who had mental health disorders. We had inadequate resources to treat them or to place them in appropriate care.”

PLANS AHEAD

What evolved from Beaumont’s follow-up research was a decision last fall to build a new 150-bed, free-standing psychiatric hospital on eight acres in Dearborn. The $45 million facility, targeted for completion by the end of 2020, will be built in partnership with Universal Health Services — one of the largest U.S. mental health providers.

It addresses a critical need in southeast Michigan, says Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, representing the 12th District of Michigan in the U.S. House of Representatives, who joined Fox in announcing the new hospital.

Along with a significant provider and bed shortfall, many of the existing beds for patients with mental illness in metro Detroit are in psychiatric units of general hospitals in Beaumont, Henry Ford, DMC, and other large systems. However, a medical-surgical hospital is not where acute mental health issues should be treated, Fox said.

There is also the challenge of staffing the new psychiatric hospital.

“We felt we needed more psychiatrists for the long term in Michigan, and the best way to get that was to start to train our own,” Fox said. Beaumont will start a new residency program to train more psychiatrists.

The telemedicine function is another facet of Beaumont’s mental health strategy.

“We would have a psychiatrist, a pharmacist certified in technopharmacology — which is a special certification within pharmacy now — and also some social workers available 24/7 via telemedicine to support our nine ERs,” Fox said.

PRIORITIZING MENTAL HEALTH

According to Fox and Dingell and many other business and political leaders, mental health is a critical area where the U.S. health care system has fallen behind. As a result, people with mental health issues go undiagnosed or untreated and land in jails and hospital emergency rooms.

Dingell recalled several jarring episodes that drove home the severity of the issue, including the Parkland school shooting in Florida, followed by news of a19-year-old student who shot his parents at Central Michigan University. The young man knew he had a problem days before the killings but was met with a lack of assistance when he asked for help, Dingell said.

“The mental health issue has been brewing for decades,” Fox said. While Michigan’s incidence of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or depression isn’t much different from other U.S. regions, proper treatment is difficult because it takes special skills to evaluate those patients, judge their acuity, and plan their therapy.

“It’s much easier to fix a broken arm,” Fox said. “We know that if patients are struggling with their mental health, they’re probably also struggling with other medical conditions that may be unrelated. So, mental health can have kind of a snowball effect and create a much bigger problem.”

A STRATEGIC PAIR

Rep. Debbie Dingell: An Advocate of Mental Health

Congresswoman Debbie Dingell talks candidly these days about her “very chaotic childhood” – trying to wrestle a gun from her father, who suffered from mental illnesses, as an eighth grader and losing her sister Mary Grace years later to a drug overdose. Dingell has emerged as an outspoken advocate for mental health.

Although she admits it is sometimes difficult to discuss these issues, she hopes that her openness will help somebody out.

“I don’t know if my father [had] manic depression. You never knew when he was going to snap, and he had paranoia,” she said. “He didn’t talk about it. He didn’t tell anybody he had a problem.”

Fifty years later, the stigma of mental illness remains widespread.

“Because we don’t talk about depression, we don’t talk about anxiety, a lot of people selfmedicate with alcohol or opioids or some other kind of drug to address that fear,” Dingell said. “We have to remove that stigma.”

Tom Walsh is a metro Detroit freelance writer.