In Light of Dantzler Incident, County Board Discusses Support of Community Mental Health

Andrew Trzaska | July 12, 2011

In light of government cuts and last week’s mass shootings, hostage situation and eventual suicide of Roderick Dantzler in Grand Rapids, an item on the Muskegon County Board of Commissioners’ agenda Tuesday raised some provoking thoughts about the state of Muskegon County’s Community Mental Health system.

On the Human Resources committee report was an item concerning the hiring of two new psychiatrists at Community Mental Health (CMH)

These positions are not new, but are open due to a retirement and one of the psychiatrists leaving for another job opportunity.  Executive Director John North noted these positions are essential to the function of CMH in Muskegon County.

No one on the board sought to stop the hiring of the positions themselves, but a question was raised by District 2 Commissioner Alan Jager of whether the two positions should be filled by hiring them onto the County payroll or to contract the work out to them.

Jager noted that federal funding for Medicare, Medicaid and for programs like Community Mental Health may be cut dramatically in the coming years as the United States and individual state, county and local governments try to balance budgets after the great Recession.

Jager noted that if down the line the county had to cut funding for CMH, psychiatrists hired on as contract workers could be scaled back easier than if they were a county employee.

Commissioner Scott Plummer of District 7 expressed concern that last Thursday’s events in Grand Rapids might happen here too if CMH is not adequately supported.

It is widely reported that Roderick Dantzler was bipolar and may have been off his medication for the condition at the time of last Thursday’s killings.

“[CMH] seems to have trouble retaining psychiatrists. I’d hate to have someone not have the care they need like what just happened in Grand Rapids.

Plummer expressed that the county board has a responsibility to look out for the well being of its community:

“All we need is for it to happen here once and whose fault is it?”

No matter how the psychiatrists would be hired, sentiment was expressed at the meeting that psychiatric care providers in Muskegon and West Michigan are becoming less common.

On a question to North, District 11 commissioner Bob Scolnik questioned the shortage of qualified psychiatric professionals in West Michigan.

Scolnick told an anecdotal tale about how one of his relatives is a psychiatric social worker, and despite the tough job market in West Michigan received three job offers in the area soon after moving here.

North noted that more and more psychiatrists are moving away from private practices where they can be contracted to hospital or CMH-like settings where they do not have to deal with overhead costs to the same level as in those collective settings.

The board voted 10-1 to approve the filling of the two psychiatrist positions on the county payroll. Jager was the sole vote against the item.

Andrew Trzaska

103.7 “The Beat” – local government beat reporter and political analyst