Members of the Tuscola County Board of Commissioners are demanding “full disclosure” on the future of Caro Center from highest levels of state leadership.
The board plans to send a letter asking to meet with both Sen. Mike Green, R-Mayville, and Rep. Ed Canfield, R-Sebewaing, to discuss “what can be done to assure that a planned new state psychiatric facility is constructed at the current facility location in the Caro area.”
Replacing Caro Center was identified in Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed budget for 2018. The estimated cost is $115 million. According to the 192-page document outlining Snyder’s budget, the “new facility will help provide a safer and more modern setting for state psychiatric hospital patients and staff.”
No one knows yet — or is saying publicly — where the replacement for Caro Center will be located.
“All of us have been around economics and life experiences to know the loss of a facility of that magnitude,” Hoagland said during Thursday’s county board meeting. “It will have a dramatic impact on our economy, like we haven’t seen in a long time.”
“I believe we need to do everything in our power — along with our local citizens, government, and state representatives — to get answers,” Hoagland added. “Right now, I think we know very little.”
Angela Minicuci, spokesman, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, recently told The Advertiser that “Over time, the infrastructure of the facilities has deteriorated making the current facility a hazardous environment for both patients and staff.”
She said of the 38 buildings on the Caro Center property, the newest is more than 60 years old and 18 of the buildings are “uninhabitable.”
Caro Center’s history dates to May 30, 1914, when it was originally founded as the Michigan Farm Colony for Epileptics at Wahjamega.
Today, the center serves 150 people who have mental health issues.
Minicuci said the new facility would be to best serve the patients “as well as increase the bed capacity by 50 to address some of the waiting list that currently exists for the state hospital system (this list has roughly 200 people on it at any given time).”
She also told The Advertiser that 130 “new staff” would be added to ramp up services.
However, without a clear indication that the replacement facility will be built in Caro, people are nervous.
“We also do not know what process will be used to make this decision or if the decision has already been made,” states a letter Hoagland addressed to Canfield and Green and cc’d to Snyder. The county board approved sending the letter Thursday.
“The people of our area deserve full disclosure of what is to be proposed by our state officials and the opportunity to explain to the people who will make the location decision why the new facility needs to be built here,” Hoagland also writes.
Hoagland identified several items that could be considered attractive for the project, including the possibility of extending water lines from the city of Caro, the large amount of land available for use in the area of Caro Center, in close proximity to M-81 and I-75.
Caro Center currently employs about 360, which makes it the second largest employer behind the county.
“The economic benefits of having the current facility in this area cannot be overstated,” Hoagland states. “There is no question a change of location would have dramatic devastating repercussions to businesses, schools and all people living in our communities. We already have a weakened economy.”
The letter also points out the “major hit” the area took when state prisons near the Caro Center closed.
“We cannot sustain another crippling closure of another major state facility.”
“Opportunity needs to be given to local officials and other members of the community to explain these and other reasons that this new facility needs to be constructed here,” the letter reads.
Hoagland said the county is updating a previous economic impact study that will break down the “tremendous economic benefits of having this facility here.”
The study is expected to be completed within the next two weeks. It will then be passed along to Canfield, Green, and others at the state level who will be able to consider the information and possibly use it in the decision-making process.
“We need to work together to assure that a new facility is built here and to keep the critically needed economic benefits here, which this community desperately needs and deserves,” the letter concludes.
County board chair Thom Bardwell said he “can’t imagine” Caro Center not being part of the community’s makeup.
He said he stepped away from the regular board meeting Thursday to take a phone call from Canfield to briefly discuss the subject of Caro Center, and that Canfield “remains very positive” that Caro Center will stay put.
But the importance of pushing for answers remains, Bardwell said.
He also said the letter demanding answers and involvement in the process should be sent to officials on other area councils and boards — even in other counties — due to the regional nature of Caro Center’s operations. As of press time, Caro City Council already had it on its agenda for Monday’s regularly scheduled meeting.
“This is a significant and top priority for this board and for the community because it is a key agitator in our community in terms of employment and other economic benefits,” he said.
Andrew Dietderich is editor of The Advertiser and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org