Michigan Association of Health Plans

‘Totally broken’: Investigation reveals big flaws in Michigan’s mental health oversight

This story originally appeared in the Detroit Free Press. Read the entire article here

She was her Brigi, the daughter born with a form of dwarfism, the daughter who lost her sight by age 4, the daughter with hearing impairments, intellectual disabilities, diabetes and bipolar disorder.

Bridget Cavanagh was also the daughter who threw a perfect bowl on her first try at the potter’s wheel, who could match every sock in a basket of clean laundry, who loved beads and crystals, and who read the Bible in Braille. She was her mother’s soul mate.

But she was neglected by a Canton group home as her health deteriorated and she stopped eating, according to an investigation by the community mental health agency overseeing the home.

By the time she got to the hospital, she was nearly comatose, severely dehydrated, her organs failing. She died less than three months later. She was 37.

“I lost the most precious human being I have ever met in my whole life,” her mother, Lois Mulkey, said. “She was God’s child.”

Cavanagh’s case prompted a neglect investigation by the office of recipient rights at the Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network. But the only person who was punished was the home’s manager, who was suspended briefly and demoted. Prosecutors are reviewing the case, but no criminal charges have been filed.

Built-in conflict

In 1974, the Michigan Legislature gave patients in psychiatric hospitals and the recipients of community mental health services, like Cavanagh, a list of pioneering rights: to be treated with dignity and respect; to be treated in the least restrictive environment; to be free from abuse and neglect.

But the system has a built-in conflict. When family members and others complain that rights have been violated, community mental health agencies are in charge of investigating themselves.

Today, nearly half a century after the system was born, a Free Press investigation finds a troubled recipient rights system and some of the state’s most vulnerable children and adults — those with mental illness or developmental or intellectual disabilities — are suffering.

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