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Changes are expected for Minnesota's 10 new 16-bed mental health hospitals

The Behavioral Health Hospital in Willmar is pictured in this undated file photo. The state has nine other similiar hospitals, some of which are coming under fire for operating at about half their capacity. Tribune file photo

WILLMAR -- Minnesota's 10 new acute mental health hospitals, including the one in Willmar, have been operating at about half capacity for the last year and a half.

With 16 beds in each hospital, that means nearly 80 of the 160 beds are not being used.

That, combined with the state's budget shortfall and an expected cut of $12 million to $15 million coming to adult mental health care, changes are expected in how those hospitals are operated.

If it was just a matter of money, several of the Community Behavioral Health Hospitals would be closed, saving about $4 million per facility, said Kevin Bolin, administrator of the Willmar hospital.

But Bolin told the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday there is a commitment to keep all the hospitals open.

The Willmar mental health hospital has been open for one year and has been a "good addition" to the state mental health treatment philosophy, Bolin said.

But while the census at the hospital -- which is geared for acute care ranging from 7 to 21 days -- has been lower than expected, there continue to be gaps in the overall continuum of care in the state.

There aren't enough hospital beds for aggressive, violent or chronically ill people who need long-term care, Bolin said. There's also a shortage of beds for individuals with developmental disabilities who also suffer mental illness.

The elimination of an intensive residential treatment facility in Marshall has put a squeeze on those beds and created a waiting list to get into the residential facility in Atwater. Budget cuts have reduced personnel needed for the assertive community treatment teams that travel in rural communities to provide mental health care.

There are a "series of gaps" inside the inpatient mental health model, said Bolin.

State Human Services officials have been touring the facilities to talk about what effect the governor's budget decisions will have on mental health services, but Bolin said no decisions have been made yet.

He said it's likely, however, that Willmar's 16-bed hospital may evolve into a facility for longer-term treatment. The 16-bed acute care hospitals in Annandale and Cold Spring may also be considered for long-term care, which can be 10 to 45 days or 60 to 120 days.

"I'm not sure what the future holds for Willmar," said Bolin, adding that Willmar "has a tradition" for handling "difficult" clients and therefore the 16-bed here may be a likely candidate for filling a needed gap in services.

"It's state politics, so I don't know what the future holds for our facility," he said.

Also Tuesday, the commissioners heard from Charlie Oakes, director of West Central Industries, about programs to provide employment, job training and job placement for people with disabilities.

Half of WCI's income comes from sales to private industry, which he said is both good news and bad news with the current economy, he said.

WCI is serving 440 people, which is 10 percent more than last year, he said, but they're doing it with 20 percent less funding. That has resulted in layoffs of personnel. "I've had a few bumps along the way," Oakes said.

The increase in the minimum wage could present some additional challenges because WCI clients who work for private companies are often the first to be laid off.

WCI is a "big train" that's bound to lose a wheel occasionally. "We will survive."


Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750