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Washtenaw United: Improvements In Washtenaw's Mental Health Services And Public Safety

Washtenaw United
Susan Smith
United Way of Washtenaw County

Back in November 2017, Washtenaw County voters approved a millage to increase funding for mental health services and public safety.  In the last two years, those funds have been allocated to 11 new programs.  Derrick Jackson from the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Department and Lisa Gentz from Washtenaw County Mental Health Services join WEMU's David Fair for a conversation about how these vital services have improved and what lies ahead in this week's "Washtenaw United."  

WEMU has partnered with the United Way of Washtenaw Countyto explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area.  And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services.  It is a community voice.  It is 'Washtenaw United.'


Fourteen years ago, Washtenaw County Community Mental Health hired Lisa Gentz to lead a team of staff members that provided intensive treatment and support services to county residents with severe mental illnesses.  Later, Lisa was promoted to lead the county’s mental health access and crisis team.  During that period, the team launched 24/7 phone support and crisis response services--which it continues to offer today.
Gentz says it became clear through her tenure at WCCHM that a significant number of the agency’s clients had frequent interactions with the law and that few officers had the training she and her team of licensed social workers relied on in their work.  With leadership from the county’s sheriff and director of community mental health, Lisa began to work collaboratively with Dr. Debra Pinals, a University of Michigan professor of psychiatry, forensic psychiatry, and addiction medicine, as well as a team of staff members from the sheriff’s department, to build and roll out a managing mental health crisis training program for officers.  Lisa also worked with community members and law enforcement officers to identify and launch other ways to divert low-level offenders with mental health and substance use disorders away from the criminal justice system and into effective treatment and recovery programs.

Lisa continues to work on criminal justice system diversion initiatives, but has also been tapped to serve as program administrator for WCCMH initiatives supported by the Public Safety and Mental Health Preservation Millage, which began to provide new resources for this work in January of 2019.  Lisa holds a bachelor’s degree in social work from Northern Michigan University (2001) and a master’s degree in social work from the University of Michigan (2002).  


Derrick came on with the Sheriff's Office in 2009 and many have come to know him as “the social worker that became a police officer.”

Director Jackson graduated from Eastern Michigan University with a bachelor’s degree in social work in 1998.  While receiving his master’s degree in social work from the University of Michigan, Derrick worked with WJ. Maxey Training School, where he had his introduction to the criminal justice system.  In 2000, he began to work at Ozone House, spending the next several years in the trenches with Washtenaw County's at risk young people.

In 2004, Derrick set his eyes on elected office, where he ran for the Ypsilanti Township Board of Trustees, and, although he would lose by one vote, that experience would not go unnoticed.  County Clerk Larry Kestenbaum appointed Derrick as the Director of Elections for the County of Washtenaw, where he remained up until coming to the Sheriff's Office in 2009.

Washtenaw County Public Safety and Mental Health Millage

Washtenaw County Community Mental Health (WCCMH)

Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office (WCSO)

Community Mental Association of Michigan: Addressing the systemic underfunding of Michigan’s public mental health system

MLIVE: Expanded mental health services go beyond crisis response

MLIVE: Washtenaw County to vote on recommending cuts to mental health budget

Washtenaw Millage Six Month Update (August 2018)

Washtenaw County Millage Advisory Committee

Washtenaw Millage 100 day update (April 2019)

Recent and next steps for youth diversion activities (April 2019)

MLIVE: Washtenaw County to expand mental health, substance use services to all residents on May 1

WCCMH Service expansion (released March 2019; services open to county May 1, 2019)

Description of past and future criminal justice diversion activities led by WCSO and WCCMH (January 2019)

MLIVE: Offering hot chocolate behind an armored car: How Washtenaw’s crisis negotiators spent a busy year (January 2019)

Initial plans for millage investments (December 2018)

Community Mental Health Advisory Committee Millage Investment Recommendations (approved October 2018)


United Way is proud to be able to support numerous health and human service agencies that help people with grief, substance use disorders, and many other mental health issues.

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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