Law enforcement pleads for more mental health resources, psychiatric beds in U.P.


EAGLE RIVER, Mich. (WJMN) – Earlier this week, the Keweenaw County Sheriff’s Office made a Facebook post about the need for more mental health resources in the Upper Peninsula.

Last weekend, Keweenaw County Sheriff deputies responded to a call of a young person who drove their car into a group of trees at nearly 100 m.p.h. The sheriff’s office said the subject decided they did not want to live. After being transported to a local hospital for medical treatment and a mental health assessment, the subject was sent home after deciding the subject was not a threat to themselves and sent home with a safety plan.

Keweenaw County Sheriff Curt Pennala said the results of this assessment did not sit right with him.

“If we determine someone’s a danger to themselves we take them into protective custody and transfer them to the hospital,” said Pennala. “And of course, if they’ve got to be seen medically they’ll take care of their medical needs first, and then help will be called in to assess them afterward. Something falls apart at that point, where I don’t know if it’s just a lack of resources, you know. Let me be clear: some of the staff that we work with from mental health, they’re the best staff to work with. It’s nothing to do with them, it’s just we’re not serving our community like we should be.”

Just over a year ago, Local 3 spoke with Chippewa County Sheriff Michael Bitnar after he also posted on Facebook of the need for more mental health resources in the U.P. We asked him if there have been any changes made since then, and he responded:

“Nothing has changed. We still house too many with mental health problems and there aren’t enough state beds for them. Everything the Sheriff over there stated is the truth state-wide. Too many people needing help are turned away and sent home with a (Plan).”

According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services website, Chippewa and Marquette counties are the only counties in the Upper Peninsula that have licensed adult psychiatric beds. At UP Health System – Marquette there are 37 beds, and at War Memorial Hospital in Sault Ste Marie, there are 20 beds, totaling 57 adult psychiatric beds for the entire U.P. In the state of Michigan, there are 2,267 licensed adult psychiatric beds. These do not include child/adolescent beds.

Screen grab from MDHH’s website. These are May 2021 numbers.

Pennala also mentioned that often times both War Memorial Hospital and UP Health System – Marquette beds are full, and they have to bring patients downstate where the majority of the state’s psychiatric beds are.

“That taxes the county when we got to do something like that, because I have to send two deputies on them transports.”

Along with a lack of beds, Pennala said there’s not enough proper mental health treatment for those struggling.

“When people go into the hospital, this might be the only time they’re reaching out for help. So we need to help them at that time instead of just sending them home.”

If you or someone you know are in need of mental health help, we’ve created a list of some resources located in the U.P.:

The 24-Hour National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 800-273-8255.

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