Wasting time and money

Somewhere in Michigan, a mile of road isn’t getting paved.

Instead that money was used to fund a study the state simply ignored.

Though she campaigned to get Lansing “to fix the damn roads,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer spent $277,000 – the cost of about one mile of new pavement – to hire Myers and Stauffer, an accounting firm, to review the 2017 decision to build a new $115 million, 200-bed state psychiatric hospital to replace the existing 150-bed Caro Center.

Then she and Department of Health and Human Services director Robert Gordon chose to completely ignore the findings of that report and propose, instead, to just make things dramatically worse. For despite a simple consensus across disciplines and party affiliations that there is a need for more places for the mentally ill to go – besides jails, prisons, the street and homeless shelters – they proposed cutting back on the number of beds presently available to serve the mentally ill by trimming the number of patients at the Caro Center to a mere 84, and hopefully find other places for the 200-plus people waiting for beds in state psychiatric hospitals.

Mark Haney

One thing the Myers and Stauffer report did show was a failure by the state and DHHS to study the psychiatric needs of the state and plot a proper course for Michigan to take. As far as anyone knows, that process still hasn’t taken place. And yet, here we are, with Gordon and the governor making recommendations that ignore the study she ordered and we’re all paying for. A study, by the way, that recommended continuing to construct a new hospital at Wahjamega.

Of course, we here in Tuscola County bear some responsibility for all of this happening. Someone should have halted the petty bickering and contentious battling over how to get water to the Caro Center. You had to know that was going to convince state officials we couldn’t even agree on a way to take advantage of a $115 million investment made in our own county.

It did give Gordon and the governor the excuse they needed to halt construction and question whether Tuscola County deserved this huge investment of state funds. In turn, it pretty much forced county officials to spend money on consultants and studies of their own to counter the state’s plan to pull the plug. 

Again, that is money that very well could be spent on something else.

But if you think wasting $277,000 on an ignored study is something, consider that Gordon and the governor are prepared to walk away from the nearly $4 million already spent on this project for engineering, planning and other construction preparations – including the October groundbreaking. That kind of money would pave a lot of roads. It’s also a bit ironic, since there is a political vein that says all of this was just an effort by the governor to strong-arm support in the Legislature for a road tax by holding the Caro Center project hostage.

And, of course, all of this is just a lot of political posturing since the final decision will be made in negotiations between the governor and the Legislature on the 2019-20 state budget. Those who decide how the state’s pile of money will be spent will have the real final say on whether or not construction of a new Caro Center hospital resumes. 

Which leads us to the planned Aug. 27 rally at the state capitol in Lansing. It is important, the county’s two consultants say, for there to be a good turnout of local people on the capitol steps. They’d like to see 300 or more people there for the rally, all of them holding signs showing support for continued construction of the new hospital. That this is happening on the morning of a work day doesn’t seem to matter. That it is happening nearly two hours away from here also doesn’t seem to matter. That there isn’t a lot of time to organize such a turnout also doesn’t seem to matter. 

The Tuscola County Board of Commissioners is trying to find a way to get people to the rally. Commissioner Kim Vaughan has looked into paying – out of his own pocket, through sponsors or donations – for private buses, church buses, 12-passenger vans, Conestoga wagons, whatever means available to get people there.

Has anyone considered school buses? Wouldn’t it be a great sign of broad local support for the Caro Center if the state capitol were ringed that day with a bus from every school district in Tuscola County? Couldn’t each district spare one bus that day to help this effort? Couldn’t those buses also collect people at their local school to bring to the rally? 

Does this make a lot of sense, or is it just me?

Admittedly, this is all just a dog-and-pony show for state officials and lawmakers – a public relations effort done on a large scale – but it could go a long way to diminish the not-so-great impression we made on state leaders with our back-biting and bickering over the water issue for the Caro Center. It also will display a solidarity with the people and patients of the Caro Center, showing them that the people of Tuscola County are willing to sacrifice and go out of their way to recognize and honor the work done there and to do whatever they can to see that it is continued, but in a much nicer setting.

Now, if only we could figure out some way to fix the roads …..

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