Mental health care needs a major topic at round table

Area providers talked health and human services issues with state legislator

Photo by Deb Gau Minnesota Sen. Tony Lourey,DFL-Kerrick, spoke to area health care and human services representatives in a round-table discussion Monday morning in Marshall.

MARSHALL — Needs for mental health services are a concern for area health care providers, speakers at a legislative round table event said Monday. The challenge of finding — and funding — appropriate mental health treatment for Minnesotans is something that goes beyond this corner of the state, participants said.

“There’s a crisis of mental health services” statewide, said Beth Wilms, director of Southwest Health and Human Services. “We need to do something different.”

Wilms, along with other area health leaders, spoke with Minnesota Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, at the round table. Lourey, who is Ranking Member of the Minnesota Senate’s Health and Human Services Policy and Finance Committee, was in Marshall Monday morning as part of a statewide tour.

At the round table discussion, Lourey said he wanted to hear about area health care needs in the area, and what changes might need to be made to improve Minnesota’s health care system.

Lourey acknowledged that there are challenges facing health care in the state. During his time in the Minnesota Legislature, he said, “I’ve really been challenged by the political conversations that have developed. I don’t think it’s getting us where we need to go.”

Participants in the round table discussion included members of county government in southwest Minnesota, representatives of area health care providers, members of Southwest Health and Human Services, and organizations like United Community Action Partnership and Southern Prairie Community Care.

Health challenges in southwest Minnesota range from finance to transportation, speakers at the round table said. However, a major challenge was providing mental health care. One part of the problem was a limited availability of inpatient care in Minnesota. Mary Maertens, president and CEO of Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center, said some people are traveling long distances for inpatient mental health treatment.

“We’ve seen a shift in the percentage of patients we’re serving,” Maertens said. Avera Marshall’s behavioral health unit was starting to receive more patients from outside their usual service area, she said.

Ashley Kjos, director of the nonprofit mental health provider Woodland Centers, which serves six counties in southwest Minnesota, said there are also limited options for youth and children who may need intensive mental health care.

A lack of mental health care options also carries a cost for Minnesota counties. Lourey and round table participants said that issue recently came under the spotlight in the media. This week, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that it’s cost taxpayers more than $90 million over the past six years to house patients who have completed treatment at the state hospital in Anoka, but don’t have anywhere else to go. Some patients were waiting in Anoka because they needed additional treatment in programs that were too full to accept them right away, the Star Tribune reported.

If patients are cleared for release from the state hospital, but not discharged right away, the additional costs for their care come back to the counties, Wilms said. And in the meantime, the patients aren’t getting treatment that’s appropriate for them, she said.

Financial costs to provide mental health care, and recruiting and retaining staff are also challenges for health care providers and human services in southwest Minnesota, round table participants said.

Lourey acknowledged the difficulties for mental health care that Minnesota providers were dealing with — there were no easy answers, he said.