Worthington a candidate to get proposed mental health crisis center

WORTHINGTON -- Included in the Minnesota House Republicans' $825 million bonding bill proposal is $25.1 million in grants to build five outstate mental health crisis centers.

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Prairie Justice Center's New Beginnings area. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)

WORTHINGTON - Included in the Minnesota House Republicans’ $825 million bonding bill proposal is $25.1 million in grants to build five outstate mental health crisis centers.


The facilities would provide proper care and safe housing for people with a mental illness or those undergoing a mental health crisis or substance abuse disorder, including those under arrest or subject to arrest.


Area leaders want one of those centers built in Worthington. They say the absence of such a facility puts area law enforcement, hospitals and mental health patients in a tough spot.



Right now, if someone is undergoing a mental health crisis and must be held for their own safety, they often end up in a local jail cell or hospital bed.


“So they just sit there and the legal system and correctional system has to deal with them - and they’re poorly equipped to do so,” said Scott Johnson, executive director of the five-county Southwestern Mental Health Center. “Sometimes they will be transferred to an emergency room, and they get stuck there because there’s no acute care in our region, just beds.”

Patients can get stuck in a hospital for days or even weeks, as there’s nowhere to transfer them and physicians don’t feel they can discharge them, Johnson said. The problem is similar in area jails.

“We’re getting hammered by requests from law enforcement,” Johnson said. “They’re filling their jails up with people who would be better served in a mental treatment facility.

“It clogs up the courts, takes up beds, takes up the jail’s time and the person doesn’t get any treatment. It’s the wrong thing to do for people, but it’s the only choice they have.”

Sometimes, individuals in need of treatment are transferred to behavioral health hospitals in Marshall and Sioux Falls, S.D. However, if the patient is the subject of a pre-sentence investigation, on parole or, in some cases, on probation, they cannot cross state lines, and the Marshall center is often full.



Some Nobles County residents are sent to the Community Behavioral Health Hospital in Annandale or the Metro Regional Treatment Center in Anoka. Nobles County is required to pay for the treatment, and it costs the taxpayers roughly $1,800 per day for each patient.


“You can’t budget for that,” Nobles County Commissioner Bob Demuth Jr. said. “We’ve had a couple patients stay for months, and it was costing the county more than $50,000 every month.”


The long distance to find care is also problematic for families of the patient, said Worthington Mayor Mike Kuhle.

“One, it’s a cost to the county, but two, it’s hard on the support family that needs to be involved in helping them get through those holds,” Kuhle said. “It’s hard for them to drive and transport themselves over there to help the recovery process.”



Kuhle and other area leaders think Worthington is a strong location for such as facility, as it has a usable building. They believe the former KidsPeace facility - attached to Prairie Justice Center and currently being partially used by New Beginnings as a drug and alcohol treatment center - could be converted into a mental health crisis center. A rough estimate from Nobles County Administrator Tom Johnson pegs the cost of refurbishing the facility at $3 million.


During a trip to St. Paul Tuesday to lobby for the WELL project in the bonding bill, Nobles County commissioners spoke with House Capital Investment Chair Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City. By chance, they began talking about the regional mental health centers, and Demuth Jr. mentioned Worthington’s existing brick-and-mortar location.


Urdahl’s eyes reportedly widened when he heard the $3 million estimate - less than the projected $6 million price tag for a new building - and he noted the savings would allow for another regional facility. Urdahl asked that the facility be able to hold 16 beds.


Funding for the regional centers are expected to make it into a final bonding bill, as it has bipartisan support, including support from Gov. Mark Dayton.


Though the GOP Senate majority has not released its recommendations, Senate Capital Investment Committee Chair Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, has been leading the charge to build regional mental health centers. Under Senjem’s bill, the Department of Human Services would review proposals from various counties and decide on the best location for the facilities.


Senjem also authored a bill that would appropriate $50 million to build supportive housing for individuals with mental illness.


Johnson noted the regional centers would have challenges with staffing, and need a solid funding commitment from the state, but said they could be extremely helpful if run correctly.

“It would give us another tool to address situations where people need an acute level of care for a brief period,” Johnson said. “We would be interested in participating in this, because we need access to these kinds of services for folks as well.”

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