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SMHC continues to look for location

WORTHINGTON -- With neither inpatient nor outpatient chemical dependency programming, or a detox center, available in Nobles County, several key players in the health industry gathered in Worthington Wednesday afternoon to brainstorm ways to fill the gap and keep money from flowing outside of the county.

Pam Fleming, social services supervisor with Nobles County Human Services, said each person transported to the nearest detox center -- located in Woodstock -- costs the county $57 in transportation costs and another $190 for each day the individual must remain there. The maximum stay is 72 hours. Though Worthington's Prairie Justice Center (PJC) offers a holding cell for intoxicated individuals, it isn't adequately equipped to house those who must complete detox.

Part of Wednesday's meeting was to discuss ways in which the county could provide those services at a reasonable cost and where they could best be housed.

With the Southwest Mental Health Center (SMHC) still mulling over a location for its Worthington facility -- the present lease of a building on the Worthington Regional Hospital campus expires in 2009 -- the idea is the new SMHC facility could include the necessary space to meet the growing needs in areas including chemical dependency, behavioral health and psychiatric care.

"I just think it's so important, before you build something ... let's make sure you build a building that can allow you to offer (more programs)," said Mel Platt, Worthington Regional Hospital CEO. "We need to look at the big picture -- not just an office building for Southwest Mental Health."

Nobles County Administrator Mel Ruppert said it's imperative the county gets its "hands around what we need now and what we need in the future."

That includes having the space to offer the programs, the people to fill the positions and the money to finance the project.

While SMHC and the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership continue to discuss the possibility of developing a mental health campus on the grounds of the former Central Elementary School in downtown Worthington, that location may not offer enough space if the agency was to expand its services. One idea being tossed around is building the campus on county-owned land near the PJC.

"If we're going to build it, we've got to have everything in it that we need," said county commissioner Diane Thier.

Topping the list is a detox center and a facility that can serve both inpatients and outpatients who are required to complete a chemical dependency treatment program.

"Right now, we have a lot of alcohol issues," said Fleming. In 2005, Nobles County issued 171 citations for driving while intoxicated, completed 108 chemical dependency assessments and sent 33 individuals out of the county to a detox facility. Estimates are that nearly 70 individuals were kept in the local jail for detox because there was no space at the detox facility.

While Fleming said a service provider could be hired to offer chemical dependency treatment programs in Nobles County two or three times per week -- and provide a program in Spanish -- she would rather see the dollars stay local.

"I think you could keep someone busy full time with chemical dependency (counseling)," she added.

Southwest Mental Health offered a chemical dependency program until nearly two years ago. It was dropped because the program could not sustain itself, said the center's executive director, Scott Johnson.

If SMHC opts to again offer a chemical dependency program, there was discussion on where it would be housed. The agency's current building plans call for an office building and a new Unity House, which serves patients in a 56-day drug addiction treatment program. The office building, since it serves only Nobles County, would be financed by the county. However, Unity House serves patients in an 18-county area.

Financing Unity House is an issue yet to be worked out, as Nobles County Commissioners opted out of a multicounty HRA (Housing and Redevelopment Authority) to establish a countywide HRA with EDA authority.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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