Tuscola County leaders said Tuesday that the state plans to build a new $115 million state psychiatric hospital on the site of the Caro Center, saving about 350 jobs at the facility and adding 100 new jobs.
“We’re sky-high here. We’re just soaring,” said Michael Hoagland, the Tuscola County controller/administrator who helped lead the fight to have a new state hospital built at the Caro Center site.
“What a big victory, what a big win,” Hoagland said. A press release from state Sen. Mike Green (R-Mayville) and state Rep. Edward J. “Ned” Canfield confirmed the state’s intention to build the new facility at the Caro Center location.
“This is great for the Thumb, great for the community,” Hoagland said. “Hopefully we can spin off this and that momentum will stay with us for other efforts.” Replacement of the Caro Center, 2000 Chambers Road, was identified several months ago in Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed budget for 2018. The budget, however, didn’t include any details about where the new facility would be located, triggering a campaign by Tuscola County leaders to keep the facility in the Caro area.
The existing Caro Center buildings sit on only a portion of about 650 acres the state owns along M-81 and Chambers Road near Caro. The Caro Center houses about 150 patients and provides what Hoagland has called 350 “good-paying jobs, with benefits.”
Canfield has noted the proposed new state psychiatric hospital would house 200 patients. Hoagland said the larger number of patients will add 100 new jobs at the new facility.
“The multiplier effect would say there will be at least another 100 jobs besides the direct 100 (new) jobs, so you’re talking 200 area jobs,” Hoagland said. “That’s got to help people in this economy. Can’t you just see the contractors’ trucks going in and out of that facility, and buildings going up, and cranes – who knows what?
“It’s just so exciting. The employees out there have to be ecstatic. They don’t have to move from their homes. It made sense for the families of patients, who … won’t have as long of commutes.”
Former Caro City Manager Ryan Piche – who took a new job this month in the state of New York but sought to keep the Caro Center in the area – has said that some argued against the Caro area as a location for a new state psychiatric hospital because the Caro Center is “not centrally located.”
Piche, however, said statistics don’t back up that claim, stating that 82 percent of patients at the Caro Center are from Tuscola County or a county abutting Tuscola County.
Caro Mayor Joe Greene called Tuesday’s announcement “great news.” In a press release issued Tuesday, Green thanked Canfield “for his tireless work in making sure this got done.”
Canfield thanked Snyder “for listening to our constituents and agreeing that the present location is best for the new facility.”
House Bill 4323, which include language authorizing the project, now goes before the state Senate and House of Representatives for a final vote, according to the press release Tuesday from Canfield and Green.
“Logic would say it would be (built at the Caro site),” Hoagland said. “They have 600-plus acres. They can get water and they’ve already got sewer services to the facility. Water could get extended out of Caro. It would be tough to imagine (it going) somewhere else.”
Hoagland stressed the facility will benefit the Thumb region.
“It’s not just Caro,” Hoagland said. “There are people from the entire region that work there. … It helps the entire area.”
Hoagland praised Green and Canfield for “communicating the importance” of keeping the facility in the county. Canfield noted he is “elated and pleased” about reports the new state hospital will be built in the Caro area.
Canfield credited a number of local officials – including Hoagland, Piche, Tuscola County commissioners and Tuscola County Economic Development Corp. officials Steve Erickson and Vicky Sherry – for their efforts.
An analysis by the Tuscola County Economic Development Corp. listed the “total monetary economic impact” of the Caro Center at about $53.7 million per year. That amount includes $19.6 million in Tuscola County.
“I think this was an all-hands-on-deck endeavor for our entire community,” Canfield said. “We’ve had – in my office alone – well over 250 letters from citizens from around the state, from representatives from other districts that are supportive of the Caro Center staying in Caro. But Mike Hoagland, (Tuscola County Board of Commissioners Chairman) Thom Bardwell and all of the commissioners were very important to this process.
“As was Steve Erickson and Vicky Sherry. They deserve tons of credit as well, because they wrote an outstanding piece on the economic impact of losing the Caro Center and what it means to our community.”
For months, some Lansing-based political insiders said the state of Michigan would close the Caro Center and build a new state psychiatric hospital somewhere else.
“I can’t tell you how many times I heard that,” Canfield said. “Right from the beginning, people said ‘Well, it’s not going to Caro.’ Some of the people who became our most important allies initially gave me reasons why it shouldn’t go to Caro.”
Canfield said the state budget director, Al Pscholka, proved to be a valuable supporter of building a new state psychiatric hospital in Tuscola County.
“The important thing of having this (decision) transpire over four months is it allowed Sen. Green and I time to build our case, that says ‘This should go to Caro, and these are the reasons why,’” Canfield said. “We’ve been very fortunate that (state Department of Health and Human Services) Director Nick Lyon and Budget Director Pscholka, and the governor, have taken their time to evaluate all of the issues related to this, that allowed us to outline our perspective and the positives that we bring to the table.”
Caro Center’s history dates to May 30, 1914, when it was founded as the Michigan Farm Colony for Epileptics at Wahjamega. Forty-seven buildings now sit on the 650 acres of state-owned land that is the site of the Caro Center.
Twenty of the buildings “can’t be used just because they’re not in the appropriate shape or they don’t meet the current (Americans with Disabilities Act) or The Joint Commission standards for being able to serve people who are mentally ill,” said Angela Minicuci, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Human Services that oversees Michigan’s five state psychiatric hospitals.