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State starts to plug holes that led to release of mentally ill man

ST. PAUL — Procedures are in place to prevent mentally ill patients from being prematurely released from a high-security state hospital, Department of Human Services officials told Minnesota senators Monday.

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The chairwoman of a Senate committee said she is satisfied that officials are trying to make sure an incident similar to one this summer does not happen. But Chairwoman Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato, said there could be more holes in the system.

“It seems like it is reaching crisis proportions,” she said after hearing about multiple problems at the hospital.

A man was released from the state security hospital in St. Peter to a Twin Cities homeless shelter during the summer after a series of mistakes resulted in paperwork not being filed in time to keep him in state care.

A report prepared by independent investigator Mary P. Foarde described the final days before the man was released as “chaotic.”

Sheran, head of the Senate Health, Human Services and Housing Committee, said she was glad to hear that the state now has paperwork for each committed mentally ill patient triple checked so court deadlines are met.

“They let the time lapse,” Sheran said the incident this summer.

Foarde’s report indicated that problems began when a court committed the man, which the Star Tribune identified as 23-year-old Raymond Traylor, to obtain state mental health treatment. An Anoka facility decided he was too violent, so he was transferred to the St. Peter hospital.

While Foarde said the St. Peter staff was professional and did what it could to help the man, a deadline to let the court know how Traylor was doing passed, forcing him to be released.

Foarde’s report paints a picture after the release was ordered of hospital staff’s frantic efforts to find a place for Traylor to live. The report indicated he preferred a homeless shelter.

Hennepin County did not have the money to place him in a facility that could help and the state could not find anyone to accept him.

Eventually, two security hospital workers drove the man to the Twin Cities, let him out and watched him go into a homeless shelter.

Department of Human Services officials told Sheran’s committee that there now are checks and balances to make sure the Traylor story is not repeated. They also are working with others who know what services are available for release mental health patients.

“I appreciate that there will be no more discharges to homeless shelters,” Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, said. “I think that is inappropriate no matter what.”

An issue that still could remain is a big turnover of psychological staff members. Many workers the state hires are newly out of college and once they get experience they move on to better-paying jobs.

Sen. Greg Clausen, DFL-Apple Valley, said there is another ongoing problem: not enough facilities across the state to help the mentally ill.

In an interview, Sheran said the Legislature may need to consider spending more money to help the mentally ill when it returns to St. Paul on Feb. 25. Lawmakers wrote a two-year budget earlier this year, and many will resist adding spending next year.

High on Sheran’s list is a study about the entire mental health system, with a goal of finding problems like surfaced with this summer’s incident.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.