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Michigan father goes viral after pleading for youth mental health care

Posted at 11:55 AM, Mar 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-09 11:55:35-05

ALMA, MI — ​Jay Gross sat in the parking lot of Gratiot Medical Center in Alma last month and made a video pleading for help for his son, who needed mental health services.

Gross had been trying desperately to find his son an inpatient psychiatric bed. He'd come up empty.

“I can’t believe that I’m going to sit there again in that La-Z-Boy with my son, who now has had no help, no help at all and he needs it," Gross said in the video.

That video has since gone viral with more than 100,000 views on YouTube, and his son has been moved to an in-patient mental health clinic.

Jay Gross and his wife JoAnn Rahl-Gross are school teachers who live in Mount Pleasant. They have three sons who they have adopted. He says when they adopted their sons, they understood that they would come with baggage.

“Still you fall in love with your kids. There’s not much more you can do. You just do what you do as a parent,” Gross said.

They started noticing compulsive lying and other things with their 15-year-old son. So they got him into counseling, sent him to see doctors, tried medication and had him tested for autism and other things.

Gross says they also found knives in his room and he was cutting the bottom of his feet and fingers with fingernail clippers.

But on Feb. 14, a situation happened that convinced them they had to do something.

“It was just one of those things that just shocked us. We have found a couple of letters that were written, and we confronted him and talked to him and it didn’t go the way that we planned,” Gross said.

He says, prior to that, the school system had contacted them and told them their son had been researching suicide on the internet.

“So I called the family doctor. I called his counselor. And both without ever talking said take him to Gratiot ER get him admitted we’ll get him into an inpatient clinic and that’s kind of where the nightmare began.”

That nightmare would be them spending 12 nights in the emergency room waiting for their son to get the help he needs. Because the entire state of Michigan has just 399 inpatient psychiatric beds for children and teens.

He said his wife "who is an absolute warrior went up, down, right" trying to find an inpatient bed "and there were never any beds. Or he was too acute for that or we just couldn’t fit him in."

The day he made the emotional video he had fought for al,most five hours just trying to get digital signatures for a subsidy," he said.

“I shut my phone off for about two hours and took a nap with my son in the ER and then I woke up turned my phone back on and I was like, 'Wow.' Twenty-four hours later, he’s gone to an impatient,” Gross says.

He says they started getting contacted by representatives from health insurance companies. They were even invited to speak in front of the state House Appropriations Health and Human Services Subcommittee on March 3.

Robert Sheehan is the chief executive officer for the Community Mental Health Association of Michigan. He says there's a terrible shortage of inpatient psychiatric beds for adults and kids.

According to a survey his organization conducted, it takes about nine calls for every one inpatient psychiatric admission, Sheehan said.

He also said the lack of access to inpatient psychiatric beds is about more than just numbers.

“The first is there aren’t enough beds. More deeper than that is the milieu the mix. So, if you’re running a hospital ward that is set up for people that have a little behavior problems they might be depressed or anxious. You’re not ready for someone with behavior problems,” Sheehan said.

It's hard to mix a person who might have a violent streak in with a fragile patient population, he said, but that can be solved with physical changes.

“Jay and his family should not have had to go on Facebook and plead for care. That’s what’s wrong with the system is that there aren’t enough hospital beds,” Sheehan said.

The Grosses say other parents have been contacting them after seeing their story. Although they don't know where their path is going, they want to remind other parents to not give up.

"They're crying alone at night. They don't know what to do. Their child is violent, their child is depressed, their child is attempting suicide. Don't give up there has got to be a way to give these kids a voice. There's got to be a way to make a change," Gross said.

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