Mental health services are back in the spotlight for Grand Traverse County commissioners.
The commissioners have had a strained relationship with mental health programs run by Northern Lakes CMH. On Wednesday morning, the commissioners met to review their partnership agreement with five other counties that also share services. It’s a small step forward, but a big change from where the commissioners were this spring.
In May, Grand Traverse County Commissioners voted to move forward with dissolving their relationship with Northern Lakes Community Mental Health. Commissioner Bryce Hundley said: ‘In my mind, it started on a … I don’t know if it’s ‘dangerous’, but certainly on a difficult footing.
But over the past four months, executives have been working behind the scenes to see if that relationship can be repaired. County Administrator Nate Alger said, “It’s the people in the room that make it work…the people in the room are dedicated to doing it and doing it right, and that’s what matters.” Commissioner Brad Jewett said: “Our primary concern is to ensure that we provide the best possible services to those who need them.
Alger says they have drafted a new partnership agreement for the six counties to move forward together to address mental health needs. This includes Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon and Crawford counties.
Hundley says: “I think it’s fair to say that we’ve taken a step back from the immediate disbandment of CMH, to, let’s explore what we have, try to resolve…the many differences we have with other counties .” He says this lays the groundwork for continued county relations – and this ultimately allow them to rewrite the deal with CMH. Algiers says: “The agreement essentially allows us to engage in the negotiation process.
For Jewett, “the goal is to move Northern Lakes forward in its current form, but with some changes,” he says.
Grand Traverse County hires consultants and takes initiative to revamp agreement with Northern Lakes Community Mental Health. But that doesn’t mean they’re going it alone. The six counties have every interest in moving forward. Grand Traverse County leaders say other counties have also raised concerns in recent months. Alger says, “We are not alone in this…every county, regardless of size, has its own unique relationship with the CMH of the Northern Lakes, and they have issues. And Jewett adds, “I think every county involved has concerns for whatever reason. And they vary by county.
“We’ve reached out to the other counties, and quite frankly, we’ve come a long way in discussions within those counties to determine that we want to stay as a six-county authority and we want to improve services,” said Algiers. “All six counties were involved. We had several meetings with county administrators and chairmen of each county…3,702 some of these were very difficult to navigate, but each county is committed to improving services through Northern Lakes.
That’s not to say CMH’s breakup isn’t still a possibility, but it does seem less likely now than it did just a few months ago. “We are still exploring, they haven’t taken any options off the table. But we are definitely, I think there was a time for everyone to settle down and breathe. And say, “Before we do anything drastic…we’re going to find a way to work together,” Hundley said. “There is a good opportunity for us to succeed with the six counties still working together. So, I’m hopeful.
Jewett agrees. “I wouldn’t say that nothing is on the table yet. I mean there’s also this chance that we have to do it all over again. But right now it looks like we’re going to move on.
Rewriting the deal with CMH could be a six to nine month process.
9 & 10 contacted Northern Lakes on Wednesday morning – they did not return our request for comment by the deadline.
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