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County trying to cope with mental health resource crisis

DHS bills county $1,615 a day for mental health patients

Staff photo by Fritz Busch Bridge on Center members Dora Dominguez (left) and Nicole Brueske (right) stand outside Bridge on Center with program coordinator Jackie Nelson. The clubhouse at 1113 Center St. provides a safe place for individuals with mental illness to socialize, participate in activities and learn new things.

NEW ULM — Staffing shortages, limited in-person psychiatric care and virtual access, and continuing staff turnover in local mental health agencies were reported Tuesday to the Brown County Board.

The Mental Health Local Advisory Council, Bridge on Center and adult and children’s mental health program reported those unmet needs to the board.

The New Ulm Medical Center Outpatient Behavioral Health Department is experiencing significant staff turnover and is not currently accepting new clients. It is anticipated to be six months or longer before it can accept new referrals for in-person appointments.

Virtual appointments are available in Allina Health Care, but the wait for new appointments is up to 10 weeks.

“Its been a struggle, a very difficult year,” said Brown County Adult Mental Health Supervisor Julie Hogen.

She said four people found not competent to stand trial are living in the Brown County Jail.

“It’s no way to treat mentally ill people,” Hogen said.

Brown County Sheriff Jason Seidl told The Journal Wednesday the jail has four out of 17 total inmates with underlying mental illness.

“That’s a pretty high ratio,” Seidl said.

Sometimes, they serve time in jail far longer than courts order them to. Plus they get no mental health treatment in jail.

With rare exceptions, inmates at county jails are awaiting trial and have not been convicted of any crime.

“Last last year, the court civilly committed a woman, and she went to jail for 45 days when she was supposed to go to a state mental health facility within 48 hours,” Seidl said.

The civil commitment process includes treating people with mental illnesses when they are unable or unwilling to seek treatment voluntarily; and to protect a person with a mental illness and others from harm due to the illness.

The lack of mental health care services and staff means most if not all these inmates are undiagnosed and therefore untreated for mental illness.

“I think the state of Minnesota needs to create more mental health facilities and staff them to address the needs of people that need them,” Seidl added. “It would be a good way to use a $9 billion surplus.”

In addition, Seidl said people ordered to stay in a state mental health facility, are considered to still have a mental illness and need treatment, but not at the hospital level of care.

Counties with inmates deemed mentally ill by the law are charged $1,615 a day by the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS).

Seidl said a such situation happened in Brown County last December and January when Brown County was billed $72,675 for housing a mentally ill person before they were moved to a state facility.

“But Brown County is not compensated every day we have a mentally ill person in our jail,” Seidl added.

There have been recent signs of growing awareness of this issue. Hogen said the May 17 mental health walk to raise mental health awareness in New Ulm attracted about 80 people.

Bridge on Center Clubhouse Coordinator Jackie Nelson said the organization has about 75 active members. She showed a video with member testimonies. Favorable comments included, “I realized I’m not alone. It’s a lifeline. It makes me feel better, and it keeps me from isolation.”

Nelson said the clubhouse Pay It Forward volunteer group donated money to the Allina Health Center Cancer Institute and the New Ulm Fire Department.

Hogen told The Journal Thursday that during its recent session, the Minnesota Legislature approved a Health and Human Services Bill with the House, passing it with four minutes left in the session.

“It’s hopeful that the Legislature passed bills that support mental health issues. A significant amount of funding was approved,” said Hogen. “It’ll be years before infrastructure will be rebuilt, but it’s a step in the right direction.”

The bill includes:

• $2.914 million for startup funds to create locked residential facilities for people deemed incompetent to stand trial.

• $1 million to provide mental health for health care workers.

• Creating and funding crisis stabilization beds for children and youth.

• Increasing school-linked mental health and youth shelter-linked funding by $2 million.

• $9.6 million for mobile crisis services.

• $2.5 million to fund a program to provide supervision needed to become a mental health professional at no cost.

• $1.215 million to fund a pilot project for mental health urgency rooms for children.

• $300,000 for an online music program.

• Children’s Intensive Behavioral Health Treatment Services was expanded to children who are at-risk of residential treatment.

• $486,000 more in the base for First Psychotic Episode programs.

• Another Health and Human Services Policy Bill passed late in the session include allowing Children’s Hospital to add psychiatric beds, allowing mental health information to be shared with police responding to a mental health crisis, expanding respite care to foster families.

(Fritz Busch can be emailed at fbusch@nujournal.com.)

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