Sen. Webber demands answers from neglectful MDHHS as concerns mount for youth in state’s psychiatric care

Sen. Webber demands answers from neglectful MDHHS as concerns mount for youth in state’s psychiatric care

LANSING, Mich. — Sen. Michael Webber on Wednesday sent a letter to Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Elizabeth Hertel lamenting the agency’s poor cooperation and demanding answers over troubles plaguing the state’s only psychiatric hospital for minors.

“The growing and serious concerns stemming from the Hawthorn Center and Walter P. Reuther Psychiatric Hospital have been alarming and the poor responsiveness by your department has been disappointing,” wrote Webber, R-Rochester Hills, in a letter to Hertel.

In his letter, Webber requests answers to a series of concerns, including corrective actions taken surrounding the horrific unannounced shooter drill that took place at Hawthorn in December 2022 and the recently alleged beating of a 10-year-old patient outlined in a $100 million lawsuit, security concerns over a history of patient escapes, patient weight loss trends along with nutritional and dietary information, and the rushed transition from Hawthorn to Walter Reuther compromising outdoor recreational, visitation and educational opportunities.

“Time and time again, it seems we find ourselves hitting a roadblock with the department that oversees these facilities — or getting minimal feedback if we’re lucky — this is simply unacceptable,” Webber said. “For the past year, I have been listening to parents with genuine concerns for the wellbeing of their loved ones in the state’s care who have not been getting the answers and reassurance they deserve.

“The Legislature has a duty to ensure state agencies like MDHHS are spending taxpayer dollars on the people they are charged to serve rather than on lawsuits because of poor management and leadership. More importantly, we all should be able to trust that young people in the state’s care will be protected from unnecessary and preventable harm.”

During the past year, Webber has called for legislative hearings to address these concerns, hosted a listening session with former patients and concerned parents, toured Walter P. Reuther Psychiatric Hospital with the chair of the Senate Subcommittee on MDHHS Appropriations and questioned three MDHHS deputy directors over growing concerns of care for young patients.

The state Office of the Auditor General (OAG) —  answering a petition by Webber will begin its independent investigation into how the Office of Recipients Rights (ORR) handles allegations at state-run psychiatric hospitals beginning in April.

Webber is alarmed that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s 2025 budget recommendation cuts $8.3 million from the OAG. Auditor General Doug Ringler has said the proposed 28% funding reduction would neuter the watchdog office’s ability to fulfill investigative requirements and could even put federal funding at risk.

“While an auditor’s report will eventually shed light on several issues, it is imperative that MDHHS enter the public discussion now as considerable concerns over the care of young patients grow each and every day,” Webber said. “Clear and immediate action by this troubled department is urgently needed.”

Residents who would like to share their experiences or concerns over care received at state-run psychiatric hospitals may contact Disability Rights Michigan, the federally mandated protection and advocacy system for Michigan, toll-free at 1-800-288-5923 or visit



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