The state is considering building a new psychiatric hospital as a replacement for the aging Caro Center in Tuscola County, in the Thumb. Governor Snyder’s proposed state budget includes $115 million for building a new facility, but the Michigan's Department of Health and Human Services hasn’t decided where it will be built.
Local officials in Tuscola County and state representatives from the area want Caro Center to be rebuilt near the existing psychiatric hospital that has served the area for more than 100 years. According to Tuscola County Controller/Administrator Mike Hoagland, most of the Caro Center’s patients and employees live near the hospital, and it’s the second largest employer in the county.
“If it’s not built here… ‘crushing blow’ is what comes to mind,” Hoagland said.
“This city, county, regional economy will take a major blow, and I hope our state officials take that into consideration. This area is already distressed. And to throw this on top of it, I just can’t imagine it," he said.
Yet, lawmakers from Northern Michigan are calling for the state to build the new psychiatric hospital somewhere north of Clare, in order to provide greater access to mental health services to underserved populations in in their region.
State Representative Scott Dianda (D-Calumet) says it’s “unacceptable” that Caro Center is the state's northernmost psychiatric hospital, causing people seeking mental health services in northern Michigan to drive hours in order to access mental health care at a state facility.
“We’re not servicing the rest of the state like we should,” Dianda said. “All of those facilities are in lower Michigan. I think that’s a detriment to all those citizens that live beyond Clare [and] north.”
While Dianda wants a new hospital that would serve more of his constituents, he doesn’t deny that Caro, and other areas of the state, also need more access to mental health services and wants the state to start focusing on the issue.
“This is something that’s fiscally responsible. To be able to take care of people, and take care of their immediate needs now so it doesn’t cost the taxpayers of Michigan the long-term costs,” Dianda said.
“It has to be a funding priority... and there is the money to fund these projects.”
Dianda says he’s been working with a bipartisan group of lawmakers from northern Michigan to lobby for a hospital in the northern part of the state.
The Tuscola County Economic Development Corporation released the results of an economic impact study Thursday that estimates the cost of closing the Caro Center and building a new facility elsewhere would take roughly $53.7 million from the regional economy. The study says the Caro Center is indirectly responsible for more than 700 jobs in the area.
“There’s a lack of employment opportunity as it is,” Hoagland said, “And now you take out the second largest employer, I don’t know how we could adjust to that. I know it would be devastating.”
Republican State Representative Edward Canfield’s (R-Sebewaing) district includes Tuscola and Huron counties. He adamantly supports rebuilding Caro Center in Tuscola County and says 82% of patients at Caro Center come from Southeast Michigan. But like Dianda, he acknowledges a need for expanding the states overall mental health services.
“I believe they should build our facility,” Canfield said. “But I encourage the department [of Health and Human Services] to look into building a second facility and I really will work hard at trying to make that happen in the future.”
Canfield says the decision on where to build the new psychiatric hospital won’t affect which way he votes on the state budget, but says he will work with other lawmakers including Dianda in the future.
“I’ve committed to representative Dianda that if our center is built in Caro, I’ll work the rest of the time I’m in the legislature to improve our capacity [to provide mental health services in Michigan.]”