Mount Pleasant family seeks changes, saying son waited two weeks in ER for psychiatric care

Mar 3, 2021

A Mount Pleasant couple asked the state to simplify the process of getting psychiatric care for children in crisis while testifying before Michigan legislators on Wednesday, saying they wanted to protect other people from what they experienced with their son.

Jay and Jo Ann Gross testify before a Michigan State House health and human services subcommittee on Wednesday. The Grosses say their son spent two weeks in an emergency room waiting to be accepted at a psychiatric treatment facility.
Credit Brett Dahlberg / WCMU News

Jay and Jo Ann Gross told a State House Health and Human Services subcommittee that their 15-year-old son stayed two weeks in the emergency room at MidMichigan Medical Center in Alma before they could find him a spot at an appropriate care facility.

The Grosses said their son would have stayed in the emergency room even longer if not for a video that Jay posted to YouTube and shared across social media.

“We need some help, and we don’t know where to turn,” Jay says in the video.

Their son was in crisis, Jay and Jo Ann said in an interview with WCMU News. At the advice of both the boy’s primary care doctor and his counselor, they took him to the emergency room, hoping to get him mentally stable while they found a facility that could address his psychiatric needs in the longer term.

They ran into obstacles with “everything you can think of,” including insurance, eligibility, paperwork and capacity limits, Jay said.

But after he put the video up, slots “suddenly” seemed to open up in treatment programs that previously told the family they were unable to accept his son.

Jay and Jo Ann said their son was admitted to one of those programs and was making progress, but they wanted to fix the system for other people who don’t have the same ability to spend days searching for treatment.

“I’m not looking to blame anybody. I will never sue anybody. We want this fixed so no couple ever has to deal with this,” Jay said.

The Grosses had some suggestions for lawmakers on Wednesday.

Basically, Jo Ann told the legislators, the state needs more treatment slots, and it needs a way to speed up the system for prioritizing children in crisis.

“Trust the professionals in the ERs to say, ‘This child needs to be serviced right now,’” she said.

MidMichigan Medical Center said patient privacy laws prevent it from confirming any of the specific details of the Grosses’ account, but the health system’s director of behavioral health, Katherine Dollard, said the broad strokes are indicative of issues that affect people seeking mental health in many parts of Michigan.

“Most counties are considered mental health shortage areas. It can be difficult to find timely outpatient care,” she said. “There are few specialized intensive treatment providers.”

As for the length of time the Grosses say their son was in the ER, Dollard said it’s “uncommon … but it isn’t unheard of.”

One thing that can help, she said, is a registry of psychiatric beds that’s under consideration in the legislature and would make it easier to find available treatment slots.

But that won’t help if every bed is full, which has happened, according to Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services Chief Operating Officer Bob Nykamp.

In a statement, Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services said the shortage of acute psychiatric care for children is a national problem, but it’s “strongly committed to providing quicker access to mental health services” in the state.