That's how bad the state of our mental healthcare is - a sheriff is asking for help on social media.

To be completely honest, there's probably nothing that you or I can do to fix this growing crisis in our communities. But, I suppose, by doing our part and highlighting awareness (like sharing stories such as this), we can only hope that public opinion and pressure begins to grow.

We can call our elected officials, both on a local, state, and federal level. We can even share this story with all of our friends via social media. Sadly, I don't think we will see a fix for the system for many years to come.

Chippewa County Sheriff Michael Bitnar writes:

MENTAL HEALTH HELP (WHERE IS IT?)

The following is a short story of an inmate, and more importantly a human being, that needs help. Our problem is all the different agencies who work with these situations don't want to, or can't help. This is not a unique situation as I have seen it over and over the past several years.

I have an older Vietnam Veteran in our Correctional Facility only because of his mental illness. During the initial contact with law Enforcement in 2019 it was obvious this gentleman needed help. We sat with this man for several days at our local ER trying to find a bed for him in a Mental Health facility. Days went by with our Officers guarding him with no results. We tried getting state, local and VA beds with no luck.

Ultimately this man was charged with several crimes in relation to the original contact with deputies, as he was too violent to release into the public.

In December of 2019 this inmate did have his psychological evaluation and was found to be INCOMPETENT to stand trial. (We certainly do not disagree with this diagnosis)

It is now February of 2020 and we are told his State Bed probably won't be available for him until June of 2020. We sent written paperwork and requested to get this man moved up on the list and we were denied.

I understand there is a waiting list and under normal circumstances we just have to wait it out. However, this man is not able to communicate and refuses to shower. To make it worse he constantly smears his own feces all over the walls, doors and windows within his cell. This occurs multiple times a day.

Sitting in a Correctional Facility is not what this man needs. He needs professional Mental Health care.

I have spent the last couple of days making calls and sending emails trying to get this man moved. As of this morning I have had no luck.

It should not be up to our local Sheriff's Office/Correctional Facilities to bear the burden of managing and caring for the Mentally ill or for that matter pay for their Long Term Placement. The only option Sheriff's Offices have is to do a petition but this route would result in Sheriff's Offices paying for the long term Placement and Care and place them on the same waiting list they are already on. Sheriff's Offices are not given a budget for long term Placement or Care. That is the job of the State, Local Mental Health providers or the VA.

If something happens to this Veteran while he is in my Correctional Facility, everyone will blame our Office and me personally.

I should point out that we do have mental health services available for our inmates, but in cases such as these, those services are not intensive enough and need to be conducted in an appropriate long term facility. A jail is not that facility.

We have tried over and over to get this man the help he needs. The mental health system in Michigan is broken.

We currently have at least 4 inmates that are waiting for Mental Health beds. Some of them have been waiting even longer than the Veteran mentioned above.

This is not a new situation for our County Correctional Facilities. We have been dealing with these situations ever since the closure of the Mental Health Hospitals.

I have been to several state, regional, and local meetings to address the mental health problems over the past several years. During the meetings everyone agrees there are problems, however we are still dealing with the Mentally Ill in our County Correctional Facilities where they can't get the help they need.

Thank you for your time.

Michael D. Bitnar
Chippewa Co Sheriff

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