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State of Mind: Michigan has a critical shortage of public psychiatric beds

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Since 1955, the number of public psychiatric beds in Michigan has dropped from more than 21,000 to less than 800. (WWMT/Matt Loughrin)

Studies show a critical shortage of public psychiatric beds in Michigan, where the number of beds has been cut by more than 95% since 1955.

The Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates nearly 5% of Michiganders suffer from a severe mental illness each year. But in a state with about 10 million people, Michigan has less than 800 public psychiatric beds.

“Unfortunately, all of the adult hospitals in the state have waiting lists and that’s a problem,” said Jeff Patton, chief executive officer of Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. “It’s getting to crisis proportions.”

In 1991, psychiatric patients in Michigan were housed in one of 29 state hospitals. Now, there are just five state psychiatric hospitals.

Three of those facilities house adults: the Caro Center; the Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital; and the Walter P. Reuther Psychiatric Hospital. The Hawthorn Center in Northville houses children and adolescents. The Center for Forensic Psychiatry houses exclusively forensic patients as part of the justice system.

Records show the state hospital wait list averages about 180 people.

"The number of psychiatric beds we have is just not there," said Dr. Rajiv Tandon, chairman of the psychiatry department at the Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine. “It’s nowhere near what we need.”

Tandon said declining numbers are a major problem nationwide.

Between 1955 and 2016 the number of public psychiatric beds in the United States dropped from more than 558,000 to less than 38,000 beds. In that time, Michigan went from more than 21,000 psychiatric beds to just 725.

Today there are 794 public psychiatric beds in Michigan.

Tandon said the lack of available beds often leaves people without the treatment they need.

“Now they’re on the streets; 40% of the homeless people have severe mental illness. They’re in jails and prisons,” Tandon said.

According to a study by the Treatment Advocacy Center, the minimum number of public psychiatric beds should be 50 for every 100,000 people. In Michigan, there are just 7.3 beds per 100,000 people.

“There needs to be not only more beds, but I think they need to be distributed more evenly throughout the state,” Patton said.

To reach the recommended minimum, Michigan would need to add more than 4,000 public psychiatric beds in the state.

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