NEW ULM — Mental health resources — the lack of them — was a major concern cited by voters earlier this week at a town hall meeting held by state legislators.
Jon Schlenske, CEO of Southern Minnesota Behavioral Health, stressed to state Rep. Paul Torkelson (R-Hanska) and state Sen. Gary Dahms (R-Redwood Falls) that the mental health situation in rural areas of Minnesota was in crisis.
Schlenske said the mental health legislation passed during the recent session was unclear about how — or where — the money would be spent. Schlenske said he did not want rural mental populations to be overlooked.
Schlenske’s recommendation for mental health funding was crisis stabilization units or evaluation treatment facilities.
“As we sit now, hospitals are losing up to 1,500 hours in liquidated damages boarding these folks,” Schlenske said. “People are detoxing in jail, people are not getting meds in jail. We’re seeing high recidivism rates. We’re seeing folks in our lobby who warrant an in-patient stay, but have nowhere else to go.”
The problem is becoming difficult for other organizations to handle, said Schlenske, who attending the town hall at the request of the New Ulm Police Department. Schlenske said law enforcement is having trouble managing the situation with mental health calls coming in daily.
“I think it’s getting pretty dangerous,” he said.
He warned without mental health funding from the state for rural communities to fix the problems, things would get worse.
SMBH Chief Operating Officer Deb Loverude said some people come in week after week in crisis, but mental health beds are unavailable.
Staffing is also limited. Loverude said she is the chief operating officer, not a case manager, but because the mental health situation is so acute, all employees assist.
SMBH advocating for Minnesota to adopt an integrated care model. Right now, Loverude explained, Minnesota divides care between mental health and substance abuse, but often people with substance abuse also have mental health issues.
She said these two issues go hand in hand, but in Minnesota, these treatments are kept separate. A local physician might focus on the treatment for physical issues but has no mental health perspective.
“You guys are trying to do funding in two different silos when really it is a lot of the same problem,” Loverude said.
Torkelson said they were happy to hear specific ideas to get resources where they need to be.
“There are certainly longer-term issues we need to take a look at,” he said.