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Survivors express despair after MI House Speaker indicates no bills to fix auto no-fault law

Michigan State Police were called in to keep auto accident survivors out of House Speaker Jason Wentworth's office at the Capitol.
Courtesy of Lora Rosenbaum
Michigan State Police were called in to keep auto accident survivors out of House Speaker Jason Wentworth's office at the Capitol.

Auto accident survivors hoping for a fix to Michigan's auto no-fault law were dealt a devastating blow on Wednesday.

Republican State House Speaker Jason Wentworth said none of the bills and proposals he has seen to fix problems with the auto no-fault insurance law are satisfactory, and "it's time to move on."

Those bills — some introduced by Republican lawmakers — could prevent thousands of people from losing their care this year.

The announcement by Wentworth generated multiple expressions of despair and anger from auto accident survivors, their relatives, and their care providers on the Facebook page called "We Can't Wait." Many from the group have been regularly showing up at the state Capitol since September.

 People severely injured in car crashes and relatives stand outside House Speaker Jason Wentworth's office after being told he would not meet with them
Lora Rosenbaum
People severely injured in car crashes and relatives stand outside House Speaker Jason Wentworth's office after being told he would not meet with them

Increasingly desperate, they've been pleading with lawmakers for relief from the state's no-fault law, which cuts payments to long-term care providers by nearly half. Many providers are going out of business, and Wentworth's announcement could spark a new series of closures.

Earlier Wednesday, survivors and their families received a more visceral sense of Wentworth's stance on the no-fault law. They went to Wentworth's office, hoping for a meeting.

Instead, they said they were kicked out of the office, and said the Michigan State Police were called in to make sure they did not try to re-enter.

Wentworth is one of a few key Republican leaders who has been blocking efforts to fix the law.

Lora Rosenbaum called the scene appalling.

"Mothers crying, with their catastrophically injured children being ushered out of Jason Wentworth's office — and then the Michigan State Police being called. I feel Jason Wentworth and the GOP should be ashamed of that behavior," she said.

Wentworth's office did not respond to a request for an interview.

Rosenbaum is CEO of TheraSupport Behavioral Health. The company provides a residential setting with home care support for crash survivors with traumatic brain injuries.

She said the no-fault law is driving her out of business, too. The day is rapidly approaching when she'll have to start to discharge patients — and some have no other place to go.

At least one, she fears, would become homeless.

"His cognitive abilities are not there," she said. "And his parents are aging and with limited resources and they would not be able to care for him in a safe capacity."

Michigan is now learning what happens to such people who are left without care, according to Susan Connors, head of the Brain Injury Association of America.

She said, in other states, it's not uncommon for car crash survivors who can still walk to be released from the hospital without a place to go.

From there — it can be a brutal spiral.

"Where are all those people going?" she asked rhetorically. "Psych hospitals. Jail. Homeless. Mortuary."

All of this suffering was completely predictable, said State Representative Yousef Rabhi (D-Ann Arbor).

He said lawmakers were warned in 2019 that the no-fault changes would cause the care industry for crash survivors to collapse, and now that's happening.

"The law that was passed in 2019 was a complete unmitigated disaster," said Rabhi. "We had the best in the nation coverage for auto accident survivors and we gave all that away for a series of false promises."

A number of bills have been introduced, some by Republicans, that try to tweak the no-fault law at the edges, he said. But Rabhi said the whole thing is such a mess, and has resulted in such cruelty to some of the most vulnerable citizens in the state, that the whole thing should be thrown out.

He's introduced a bill to basically, repeal the repeal, and restore the law Michigan had before. And he said he hasn't lost hope.

"The speaker is one person. And yes he is powerful, but so are the people. And there are going to be a lot of folks who are currently at the end of their rope, they have nothing left, they are in despair; and I think that is a very powerful force. And I think if people continue to organize and continue to push and continue to fight, change will happen," he said.

But there are ominous signs that the final collapse of care for survivors is just around the corner.

Long-term caregivers say hundreds of people could land in hospitals, homeless shelters, or ill-equipped nursing homes soon. Some people have already died as a result of losing care, and providers say more deaths are likely.

The latest exodus of long-term care providers may have already begun.

The day after Speaker Wentworth slammed the door on the idea of no-fault reform, one of Michigan's largest remaining long-term care provider companies, 1st Call Home Healthcare, announced it would close by April 30, leaving several dozen injured clients without care.

Copyright 2022 Michigan Radio. To see more, visit Michigan Radio.

Tracy Samilton covers the auto beat for Michigan Radio. She has worked for the station for 12 years, and started out as an intern before becoming a part-time and, later, a full-time reporter. Tracy's reports on the auto industry can frequently be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as on Michigan Radio. She considers her coverage of the landmark lawsuit against the University of Michigan for its use of affirmative action a highlight of her reporting career.