Public mental health system backed by Marquette County Board

Dr. Tim Kangas, CEO of Northcare Network, which is the Medicaid provider for mental health and substance use disorder services for the Upper Peninsula, spoke during the Marquette County Board’s Tuesday meeting on the preservation of the current public mental health system. (Journal photo by Trinity Carey)

MARQUETTE — A resolution to preserve the current public mental health system was unanimously approved by the Marquette County Board of Commissioners at its Tuesday meeting.

Commissioner Joe Derocha was absent from the meeting.

As it stands, Community Mental Health Service Programs, or CMHSPs, were created by county boards of commissioners and five agencies including Copper Country Community Mental Health, Gogebic Community Mental Health, Hiawatha Behavioral Health, Northpointe Behavioral Health and Pathways Community Mental Health to form a regional entity that represents the 15 counties of the Upper Peninsula.

Section 298 of the Executive Budget recommendations for 2020 invalidates the actions of CMHSPs “to create a regional entity under section 330.204b of the Michigan Mental Health Code,” according to the resolution. The recommendation also does not take into consideration the 15 counties’ boards of commissioners.

The passing of 298 would privatize the services offered to individuals with mental health disorders and substance abuse disorders and eliminate public specialty mental health services that provide for people throughout the U.P.

Dr. Tim Kangas, CEO of Northcare Network, which is the Medicaid provider for mental health and substance use disorder services for the U.P., spoke during the meeting of the dangers he believes would come with the approval of the Section 298 recommendation.

“I’ve worked in state and federal government and I’ve worked in and out, I’ve seen what happens when government attempts to privatize services,” Kangas said. “Specifically, what happens in Michigan, and I’m sure you’re all familiar with a couple of these examples: When the Michigan Department of Corrections attempted to privatize food services, it was an unmitigated disaster … And I’ve worked for the state for over 20 years in executive positions. The state does not do it well.”

Kangas encouraged the board to vote in support of the preservation of the public mental health system, which he said is currently a government organization, but locally controlled and responsible for representing individuals with developmental delays and individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“There are a couple other issues that I would point your attention to; I think that the people at these health plans are good, fine, decent people without question,” Kangas said. “I don’t think that they have ill motives and I’m not going to sit here and suggest otherwise. There are some people that feel that way, I don’t. That’s what their job is, that’s what they’re in business for.

“I’m in the business to serve people that are incapable sometimes of being able to take care of themselves,” he continued. “That’s what I’ve chosen to do and I’ve spent my whole life doing it. I’m very proud of it, I’m very committed to it and at the end of the day I’m responsible to you and your peers if I don’t do it well, and I accept that responsibility. So if at any time you have a problem with how those services are run, I have no problem coming in and talking with you individually or standing in front of your board or any other board across this U.P. to talk about it.”

Board Chairman Gerry Corkin thanked Kangas for speaking on the issue and noted that the resolution was previously approved by the 15 counties at last week’s U.P. Association of County Commissioners meeting before the Marquette County Board unanimously passed the resolution Tuesday.

A copy of the approved resolution will now be sent to all representatives from the Upper Peninsula and government officials.

Trinity Carey can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 243. Her email address is photos@miningjournal.net.