Panel breaks down mental health in West Michigan

Drew Schertzer

Grand Valley State University continued its monthly panel on medical issues with the Health Forum of West Michigan panel Friday, April 6, which discussed mental health. Panelists met from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. in the DeVos Center Loosemore Auditorium to talk about the subject. 

“We finally have started talking about mental health recently,” said Mark Eastburg, CEO and president of Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services. “It’s a problem at an institutional and personal level, with one out of every six adults suffering from a mental illness.”

Depression and anxiety can make someone feel helpless. Every day, Eastburg sees the stress that families of loved ones with mental illness and victims themselves experience. 

Eastburg named psychiatry shortage as a core issue, explaining that the outpatient evaluation time is unacceptable across the country because of the lack of psychiatric facilities. Eastburg said it could be three months for an adult and four months for a kid with a mental illness to be evaluated, and if you told someone’s 12-year-old daughter with leukemia to wait months to be helped, that would be seen as inexcusable. 

Another core issue that was brought up was policy. Scott Gilman, executive director of Network 180, said there is a heated debate between private and public sectors for health care. 

“Should public mental health systems be public and managed by taxpayers, or private entities that say they can do it for cheaper and better quality?” Gilman asked.  

Gilman said the 2017 budget for Michigan was used to try to privatize this public system. He said that people stopped this from happening by collectively speaking up about the issue. Gilman went on to say that if people fight to keep the system public and don’t compromise and look for better ways, however, they will get run over. 

A third option is public-private partnerships. According to Gilman, keeping a public board through partnerships and focusing on how to make things better for people is a great option.

Earlier this year, Network 180, Kent County’s mental health authority, received heavy budget cuts.

The last key problem the speakers detailed was emergency room wait times. David Blair, president of Mercy Health Physician Partners-Affinia Health Network, talked about what providers are doing to develop standardized pathways for standardized care. 

ER wait times and how long patients have to wait are large issues the public is facing, Blair said, adding that care providers have been able to work to reduce both of these in the last few years.

Blair also explained that Mercy Health has taken efforts to give more dignified care. This, according to Blair, has allowed the organization to be more personable in caring for patients and has consequently improved ER efficiency.

The panel followed with remarks from GVSU Vice Provost for Health Jean Nagelkerk. Afterward, questions were taken from the audience. 

For more information on upcoming Health Forum of West Michigan events, visit