New state law: counties can contract private companies for emergency mental health transport

LANSING, Mich. (WLUC) – A new state law could make it easier to transport patients experiencing a mental health crisis to a treatment facility.

The new law amends the Michigan mental health code, which was signed into law in 1974. Since then, it has required law enforcement officers to transport patients needing treatment for a severe mental health crisis to the hospital. Michelle Grunert, emergency services program director for Pathways Community Mental Health, said patients have not always had a positive experience in these situations.

“I think that often individuals who suffer from severe mental illness can interface and maybe have intimidating or distressing experiences with law enforcement,” Grunert noted.

In an attempt to change this, Grunert said Pathways Community Mental Health recommended that state legislators change the code. Grunert argued that those with more extensive mental health training would be best to perform these transports.

“We sat in on some legislative level meetings to really advocate for a more trauma-informed experience for individuals being transported for involuntary hospitalization,” Grunert said.

In response to input from Pathways Community Mental Health, 38th State District Senator Ed McBroom introduced a bill last year to help. Senate Bill 101 was passed by the state House of Representatives and Senate in May. Wednesday, the bill was signed into law by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

The new law allows Michigan counties to create their own mental health transportation panels.

“This panel includes a county judge, a representative from a community mental health organization, the county commissioner as well as a member of law enforcement,” Grunert said.

Once established these panels would have the ability to contract private security companies. These companies could then offer transport to patients in need of involuntary hospitalization for severe mental health crises.

“This group will create the standard operating procedures,’ Grunert added. “This includes the fleets, how they are managed and who they are managed by. The panel would also develop the training protocols and processes for the transport company they decide to hire.”

Grunert noted that this new law will not entirely solve every mental health issue for those suffering a crisis. However, Grunert did add that this law is a starting point for further discussions with state lawmakers on increasing mental health infrastructure.

“There have certainly been some gaps in how we can provide trauma-informed care to our community,” Grunert explained. “But when we have our minds working together we hope to really improve our ability to provide care.”

Grunert said the question of who will pay for emergency mental health transport from a privately contracted company is still up in the air. Until this issue is resolved, trained professionals will be unable to provide this service in Marquette County. This means law enforcement will continue to provide these services until funding is secured.

Grunert added that Pathways will continue to work with law enforcement and the county court system to come up with a solution.

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