CHEBOYGAN — Cheboygan City councilwoman and immediate past president of the Cheboygan Rotary Club Diane Raab described herself as “Cheboygan’s biggest fan.”
Raab, who is also a social worker, said she was simply ecstatic upon hearing the news that McLaren Northern Michigan is addressing the need for behavioral health services in the region.
“I was just ecstatic when I heard this because it’s such a desperate need,” Raab said Monday as McLaren Northern Michigan officials announced plans of developing the Justin A. Borra Behavioral Health Center at the McLaren Northern Michigan Cheboygan Campus. “It will bring not only jobs, but support and treatment for people in our community. They won’t have to go hundreds of miles away anymore, and it will probably bring people from other communities that need the expertise of mental health practitioners and providers that will be working here.
“I can’t thank McLaren enough for utilizing this facility for that kind of service,” Raab added. “It’s priceless in my estimation.”
With funding from the State of Michigan via a state enhancement grant and from various donors who contributed to the project, plans are moving forward to renovate the McLaren Northern Michigan Cheboygan Campus to house a new 16-bed adult inpatient behavioral health unit and partial hospitalization program.
Construction on the new health center, which will include the 16-bed Pulte Family Foundation Adult Inpatient Behavioral Health Unit, is slated to begin this week and take approximately 12 months to complete, according to McLaren Northern Michigan President and CEO Todd Burch.
When operating at full capacity, the center will have approximately 50 staff providing mental health services in the Cheboygan community.
“A critical factor for providing behavioral health will be securing the necessary staff and team members needed to run and manage this facility on a daily basis,” Burch said. “We’ve already begun the recruitment process for the next 10-12 months hiring physicians, nurses, social workers and support staff to adequately run this organization.”
Planned to open in late 2022, the renovated 11,000 square-foot unit will offer a healing environment for individuals experiencing mental health related disorders, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and thought disorders such as schizophrenia, Burch said.
“This much needed service will draw patients and their families from all over the State of Michigan to receive services in the Justin A. Borra Behavioral Health Center,” Burch said. “Two years ago Sen. Wayne Schmidt and I began planning for this at Chandler’s (restaurant in Petoskey) and in two years a lot has happened.”
Burch said McLaren’s plans for the center were developed with input from local law enforcement, community mental health agencies, care providers and physicians.
“You’re probably familiar with MiThrive Community Health Assessment, which asks residents what their top health concerns are,” Burch said. “In the last three surveys, access to mental health resources has been at the top of the list.”
The new behavioral health center and services offered will provide a continuum of care the help address the local and regional behavioral health crisis. According to McLaren Northern Michigan, their two emergency departments saw 892 behavioral health patients in 2020.
Dennis Hesselink, incoming board chair of McLaren Northern and founder of Encore Financial Group which is located in Cheboygan, said according to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in five people will have a problem with mental health.
“Recently, with the pandemic, we have seen up to 40% of people who are affected by this, which puts a huge strain on hospitals and emergency rooms,” Hesselink said. “The pandemic again has exacerbated this and here in Northern Michigan, the same is true with other hospitals in the area where often people have to wait days, and often weeks to take a person from the emergency room to a facility, which is also an issue.”
Hesselink said psychiatric beds simply are not available, and often patients are not only transferred out of the area, but at times out of state.
“This is very difficult when it comes to taking care of these patients,” Hesselink said. “Because their family members are those that need to be there to help these people as a main support team. Mental health inpatient beds are very scarce throughout the state, and in the northern region that are almost non-existent.”
According to data from McLaren, the entire state has just over 3,000 licensed psychiatric inpatient beds — with only 35 licensed adult beds in the 22 counties that McLaren Northern Michigan services.
“This is a serious issue we have in Northern Michigan,” Hesselink said. “We will bring behavioral health to a new level in Northern Michigan to our people. As a local business person, I’m excited. There’s many people here in our community that need help and this will give us a lot of benefits for the City of Cheboygan, it will give a lot of benefits to the local community and again it will give benefits to those in need.”
Burch said another aspect of the behavioral health center plan is the development of the McDonald Partial Hospitalization Program. This day program will provide intervention to prevent inpatient psychiatric hospitalization and provides a transition for patients stepping down from 24-hour inpatient care.
Burch added the partial hospitalization program will be open Monday through Friday to adults, with the average stay of being between 5-10 days.
“A typical day consists of individual and group therapy, medication management, behavioral education, skill building and periodic evaluation,” Burch said.
Burch noted plans are also to add two psychiatrists and two psychiatric nurse practitioners to help staff all three units of the center, which also includes outpatient offices in the medical office building on the Cheboygan Campus.
McLaren Northern Michigan received a $3 million State of Michigan enhancement grant to support facility renovations on the Cheboygan Campus for the inpatient behavioral unit. Donors also have come forward with an additional $4.3 million with lead gifts coming from Pier and Renee Borra, the Pulte Family Foundation and Patrick H. McDonald.
“We are so grateful to these and other donors who have stepped up to support this important project,” said Julie Jarema, chief philanthropy officer of the McLaren Northern Michigan Foundation. “Our community will be better served because of their generosity.”
State Rep. John Damoose of Harbor Springs said he was proud to be a part of Monday’s announcement.
“It’s so nice to be part of something that’s genuinely good news here,” Damoose said. “Cheboygan is so full of life and there’s something special happening here. Traveling around our district, I had no idea the significant problem mental and behavioral health has become, especially in the light of COVID. We see so many dealing with depression and thoughts of suicide, anxiety and substance abuse.”
Michigan State Sen. Wayne Schmidt of Traverse City, who was instrumental in helping McLaren Northern Michigan secure the state enhancement grant, said he has seen the need for behavioral and mental health services since the state hospital closed in Traverse City years ago.
“For Cheboygan, there will be more jobs here, which is great,” Schmidt said. “There are great practitioners here, social workers, nurses, psychologists and psychiatrists, but we needed more beds and more physical capacity and with the work McLaren did, I just did my job and it was my job to bring home that money and make sure it got funded.
“We got the job done.”
For more information regarding the Justin A. Borra Behavioral Health Center, visit www.mclaren.org/BehavioralHealthNews.