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Berrien Co. state rep helping lead effort to improve mental health treatment

BERRIEN COUNTY, Mich. -- Michigan State Representative Dave Pagel, of Berrien Springs, is one of 14 state leaders who are part of the bipartisan House C.A.R.E.S. Task Force.

“I think we’re really giving it a good effort and I think it’s beyond politics,” Pagel, who represents Michigan’s 78th District in the state house, said. “And I’m sure hoping that’ll bear fruit as such.”

The task force was formed a few months ago.

C.A.R.E.S. stands for community, access, resources, education, and safety.

The goal of the group is to improve the aforementioned elements of mental health services in Michigan.

Pagel said the group has already traveled a decent amount throughout the state to meet with local leaders and learn how mental health services are functioning in different communities.

He said he’s learning a lot about the intersection of mental health and criminal justice.

“A lot of the judges are telling me that, ‘Yeah, we recognize we need to send this person to a facility for some treatment, but then we see the nearest facility is 200, 250 miles away,’” Pagel said. “There’s a shortage of beds. There’s a shortage of trained professionals to help with these types of treatments.”

At the Riverwood Center in Benton Harbor, more than 6,000 people come in to receive mental health service each year.

Director of Services Gale Hackworth said the bed shortage is something they struggle with each day, but so is a shrinking amount of state funding.

“I would say that we’re strapped,” she said. “And the reason for that is one of the sources of funding that we used to get through the state has significantly decreased, which allowed us to have dollars that were beyond the people that have Medicaid.”

Pagel said the task force is taking a broad look at mental health reform, so the group will continue meeting with community leaders and professionals of all types.

The task force hasn’t come to Berrien or Cass counties yet, but Pagel said he’s suggested it.

Hackworth said any help is welcome because Riverwood keeps adding programs year after year, as the need grows.

“It is really important, as our legislature is working, that they think about what it’s like for a person with very few resources to get help,” she said.

Pagel said his hope is the task force will introduce some legislation by the fall or winter.

Hackworth said the team at Riverwood is continuing to expand its reach by partnering with the sheriff’s department and area schools.

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