Grand Traverse County Works to Rebuild Mental Health Partnerships

"I see this as a win for everybody." - County Administrator Nate Alger

Mental Health Services are back in the spotlight for Commissioners in Grand Traverse County.

Commissioners have had a strained relationship with the mental health programs run by Northern Lakes CMH. Wednesday morning, commissioners met to revise their partnership agreement with five other counties that also share services.  It’s a small step forward, but a big shift from where commissioners were this spring.

Back in May, Grand Traverse County commissioners voted to move forward with dissolving their relationship with Northern Lakes Community Mental Health. Commissioner Bryce Hundley says, “In my mind it got off on a… I don’t know if ‘dangerous’, but certainly rocky footing.”Cmh Northern Lakes

But over the last four months leaders have worked behind the scenes to see if that relationship could be fixed. County Administrator Nate Alger says, “It’s the people in the room that make it work… the people in the room are dedicated to getting it done and doing it correctly, and that’s what matters.” Commissioner Brad Jewett says, “Our number one concern is making sure we provide the best services we can for those in need.”

Alger says they’ve drafted a new partnership agreement for all six counties to move forward together to address mental health needs. That includes Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, and Crawford Counties.

Hundley says, “I think it’s fair to say we’ve stepped back from immediately dissolving CMH, to, let’s explore what we’ve got, let’s try and work out… the many differences we have with the other counties.” He says it lays the groundwork for continuing the relationship with the counties- and that ultimately allow them to rewrite the agreement with CMH. Alger says, “The agreement essentially allows us to commit to the negotiation process.”

For Jewett, “The whole focus is about moving Northern Lakes forward in its current form but with some changes,” he says.

Grand Traverse County is hiring consultants and taking the lead on revamping the agreement with Northern Lakes Community Mental Health. But that doesn’t mean they’re going it alone. All six counties have a vested interest in moving forward. Grand Traverse County leaders say other counties have also expressed concerns in recent months. Alger says, “We’re not alone in this… each county regardless of size has their own unique relationship with Northern Lakes CMH, and they have issues.” And Jewett adds, “I think every county involved has some concerns for whatever reason. And they vary by county.”

Gt County“We reached out to the other counties, and quite frankly we’ve gone a long way in the discussions within those counties to determine that we want to stay as a six-county authority and we want to improve the services,” Alger says. “All six counties have been involved. We’ve had several meetings with the county administrators and the chairs of each county … 3,702 some of them have been very challenging to navigate through, but each county is committed to improving the services through Northern Lakes.”

That’s not to say that dissolving CMH isn’t still a possibility, but it seems less likely now than it did just a few months ago. “We’re still exploring, they haven’t taken any options off the table. But we’re definitely, I think there’s been a time for everyone to settle and breathe. And say, ‘before we do anything drastic … we’re going to find a way to work together,” Hundley says. “There is a good opportunity for us to come through with all six of the counties working together still.  So, I’m hopeful.”

Jewett agrees. “I wouldn’t say anything is off the table yet. I mean there is also that chance that we could have to redo the whole entire thing. But right now it’s looking like we are going to move forward.”

Rewriting the agreement with CMH could be a six-to-nine month-long process.

9&10 reached out to Northern Lakes Wednesday morning– they did not return our call for comment prior to deadline.