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State sorry for lack of communication on mental health hospital changes

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WILLMAR -- The director of Minnesota's adult mental health services apologized Monday for a lack of communication about changes at Willmar's adult mental health hospital.

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About 50 people -- including those who live next door to the 16-bed facility, Willmar's mayor and several City Council members -- attended the informational meeting to hear about past changes and potential future changes.

"Did we drop the ball on communications? Yes," said Rod Kornrumpf, director of adult mental health services for State Operated Services. "We want to make that better."

Kornrumpf said the state failed to adequately tell people that the 16-bed community behavioral health hospital in Willmar was no longer a hospital.

It was originally billed as a 24-hour secure hospital to treat adults with acute mental illness. Neighbors were told clients could not leave the grounds without supervision.

But instead, the facility currently provides residential sub-acute mental health treatment services that allow clients, who are there voluntarily, to come and go.

"We didn't inform neighborhoods about that. Shame on me," Kornrumpf said. "That created a communication gap where people were caught by surprise."

He promised future changes in how the facility is operated and the clients that are served there will be communicated better.

And -- given the questionable state budget and a proposal by Gov. Mark Dayton to close the adult program here and move the adolescent program there instead -- there will likely be more changes in the future.

The face-to-face meeting between the community and Kornrumpf was initiated after the city heard complaints by neighbors about the behavior of clients going in and out of the facility.

One of those clients ended up in a garage, giving the homeowner a scare.

Seeing police and ambulances at the facility has also caused residents concerns and there have been complaints that clients smoke and stash cigarettes in the nearby playground.

The city also questioned if the original conditional use permit applied to the facility because of its change in use.

Mayor Frank Yanish asked if people, who'd made housing decisions based on the original plan for a secure hospital, were "unintentionally misled" by the state.

Kornrumpf said the intention was to build a hospital, but the needs of the state changed. Not communicating those changes was an oversight, he said. "We made a couple mistakes with the transition."

In explaining why the changes were made, Kornrumpf provided a brief history about the facility.

When the state decided in 2005 to close the Regional Treatment Centers, including the one in Willmar, a decision was made to build 10 community mental health hospitals to take their place.

By the time the doors of Willmar's new hospital opened in 2008, the state knew the need for 24-hour acute care hospitals had diminished, said Kornrumpf.

But there was an increased need for sub-acute care to help clients transition from the hospital to the community.

That's the kind of gap the Willmar facility has been filling through its new role as an intensive residential treatment service, similar to one that's been operating in Atwater for nearly 30 years.

But the Willmar facility is no longer a hospital, said Kornrumpf, again apologizing for failing to communicate that change to residents.

He said the hospital's conditional use permit has been temporarily set aside. It could be reactivated if the adult program is eventually shut down and the adolescent community behavioral health hospital, which is currently housed on the old WRTC campus, is moved there.

That will depend on what's in the state budget, which is currently at a stalemate.

Kornrumpf thanked the residents for expressing their concerns and promised that additional meetings and letters would be held in the future to improve the community relationship. But he also reminded them that the clients being served at the Willmar facility "are not criminals" and they deserve to be treated for their mental illness and they deserve to be treated with respect.

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Carolyn Lange
A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers county government and regional news with the West Central Tribune.
(320) 894-9750
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