Monday, September 12, 2005

Time for Investigative Journalism?

Something reminded me of a couple of old chapters in my life.  I've been thinking about that, and I realized that there are two stories here.  One is personal, and not very interesting to anyone who does not know me.  The other is important to everyone who lives in Michigan.  

In 1976, having just finished my freshman year at college, I needed a summer job.  I had no job experience to speak of, but some decent skills.  Specifically, I had learned photography, and was good at electronics.  There was an opening for a student extern at the Center for Forensic Psychiatry (1 2), in their audio-visual department.

The CFP is basically a state hospital for persons with mental illness, who are in trouble with the law.  It also serves as a training site for the University of Michigan, primarily their Department of Psychiatry.  The AV Dept. produced educational material for use in orientation of patients and staff, as well as for the training program.  

Back, then, the Government actually thought it was appropriate to provide jobs for people, and I was lucky enough to get one of them.  Unemployment in the area was still pretty high, because the auto industry had taken a big hit during and after the OPEC oil embargo.

In 1976, there were plans to build a new CFP, but the plans were put on hold because the State economy was not so good.  In 1977, I worked there again in the summer.  The economy was still improving, but the plans were still on hold.

In 1989 and 1990, I worked there again, although in a different capacity.  I was a fourth-year medical student, and they had some externships for M4's.  Basically, we would go there in the evening, perform and write up two admission history-and-physical exams (H&P's) , then sleep the rest of the night.  If any medical problems arose, I'd have to get up and triage them, then call a report to the attending.  It only paid something like $9/hr, but I pretty much got paid for sleeping.  It was close enough to my townhouse that I could ride my bike to work.  A pretty good deal, actually.  

Both of those jobs required me to go to every unit in the place, so I got to see most of it.  It was in pretty bad shape, in 1976; by 1990, it was much worse.  

By 1990, the need for a new CFP had gotten so acute, that plans to build a new one were underway in earnest.  The old one was really just a cordoned-off part of the Ypsilanti Regional Psychiatric Hospital, otherwise known as "Ypsi State."  

A sociological aside: "Ypsi State" had an Ypsilanti mailing address, and CFP had an Ann Arbor mailing address, even though they both were on the same land; yet, both actually are closer to Milan, than to either Ann Arbor or Ypsilanti.

No community wanted its name associated with a state psychiatric hospital.  Ypsilanti, being lowest on the prestige scale, got that dubious privilege.  CFP, by virtue of its association with UM, deserved the more prestigious address.

None of that has anything to do with a need for investigative journalism.

After 1990, the State decided to save money by eliminating the student externships.  But due to various regulations, the job still needed to be done.  Since there were no more externships, they hired, not medical students, but residents.  That ended up costing a lot more.

But that is routine government stupidity; if that were all there was to it, it would not call for investigative journalism.

Our State Government, at the time, decide to do the taxpayers another favor.  They took the lowest bidder -- an out-of-state contractor -- for the construction of the new CFP.  So instead of having millions of dollars stay in Michigan, they shipped much of that money away, where it does no good for Michigan residents.  I'm no economist, but I know that was a dumb thing to do.  But that is not all.  The outstate contractors botched the job rather badly.  That led to a two-year delay in the construction, and massive cost overrun.  

The land that the old CFP was sitting on was bid on by Toyota, a deal which held the promise of many new, high-paying jobs for the area.  The deal was almost lost because of the delay.  Even with the deal finally going through, those jobs are not here yet.  

The new CFP finally opened, earlier this year.  

click for more info

One might wonder why the new CFP needs that massive glass part in the middle.  One might be annoyed to learn that it leaked terribly, and was one of the things that led to the delay and cost overrun.  It wouldn't have been so bad if it had been a necessary part of the design, but the fact that it was wasteful to begin with, makes the additional waste much more regrettable.  

I don't know much about the specifics.  In fact, most of what I know is hearsay; it may not be reliable.  Therefore, I tried to get more reliable information.

Oddly, a Google News search on "Michigan Center for Forensic Psychiatry" turned up only four hits: none interesting; none informative.  Yet there is a story there that should be told.  We just need someone who knows how to do real journalism, instead of mere blog journalism, to look into it.

categories: rants, politics

(Note: The Rest of the Story/Corpus Callosum has moved. Visit the new site here.)
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I grew up in Milan. In high school we would drive the road through Ypsi State and look in the windows. We actually saw people in straight jackets, which was horrifying and thrilling to us hick-town kids.

I know the same pieces of the story as you do and would be curious to have the behind-the-scenes pieces laid bare.
Thank you for the note. I'm glad to have some independent confirmation of what I've heard.
Was dry cleaning performed on the ypsilanti state hospital property?
I don't know if dry cleaning wass ever done there. I am curious as to why this would be important.
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