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Bill to force investigations of psychiatric deaths passes House, awaits Whitmer's signature

Legislation prompted by 7 investigation passed unanimously
Michigan Capitol Building
Posted at 11:43 AM, Dec 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-17 18:21:56-05

LANSING, Mich. (WXYZ) — A bill that would require state watchdogs to investigate the sudden deaths of psychiatric patients shortly after being discharged from hospitals unanimously passed in the Michigan House after unanimously passing in the Michigan Senate in October.

The bill would require the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, or LARA, to investigate patient deaths occurring within 48 hours of release from a state licensed psychiatric hospital where the cause of death is listed as suicide or unknown.

It was first introduced by Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) in March. It will now head to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for a signature.

“Families turn to psychiatric facilities for help in their most vulnerable moments. When a suicide occurs immediately after treatment, that’s something the state must investigate and take seriously," Ananich said in a statement after the House passage. "And the Legislature agrees — my bill to require department investigations and reporting about post-treatment suicides has now received widespread support in the House and the Senate from both Republicans and Democrats. We know that mental illness can affect anyone at any time, and it’s our job to make sure that Michiganders will be safe when they seek help.”

RELATED: Teen vowed to take his life if Michigan psych hospital released him. The next day, he did.

As a 7 Action News investigation first revealed, virtually no psychiatric patient deaths reported to LARA receive any investigation. Of 151 reported since 2016, only 2 received any sort of review.

RELATED: When psychiatric patients suddenly died, state didn't ask why

Previously, LARA spokesman David Harns indicated that the department says it is only empowered to investigate deaths that occur in restraints, though mental health advocacy groups dispute that.

Harns says the department is working with Ananich on his bill.

“This bill is going to be crucial to getting the information we need to stop families from having to go through this,” said Michelle Burt during testimony before a Senate subcommittee in September.

Her 15-year-old son Johnathan took his life after being released from Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services in Grand Rapids.

“It’s been nine months, and I still have no answers,” she said.

As 7 Action News first reported in August, her son’s thirteen day stay at Pine Rest was marked by repeated promises to hurt himself upon release. In fact, during each of his final six full-days at the hospital, Johnathan told staff he would take his life after being discharged.

But on November 5, the first day he did not express suicidal ideation, he was released.

“We were home five hours before my son, at 15, put a (gun) to his head and pulled the trigger,” Burt said.

His death was reported to LARA, but never investigated.

Contact 7 Investigator Ross Jones at ross.jones@wxyz.com or at (248) 827-9466.