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Broadband project teeters on brink; Kandiyohi County officials still hopeful

New options may be sought for the mental health hospital

WILLMAR -- The state Department of Human Services may be asked to help find a location, and possibly a provider, to operate a 16-bed psychiatric hospital in Willmar.

The 18-county southwest Minnesota mental health consortium is expected to discuss the issue Friday in Olivia.

As part of the plan to move the state's mental health programs out of regional treatment centers, small inpatient mental health hospitals are planned to open in nine Minnesota communities, including Willmar.

Rice Memorial Hospital had been asked to operate the program in an existing building on the Willmar Regional Treatment Center campus. An estimated $1 million in renovations that would be needed to meet federal requirements has caused Rice to rethink that plan.

Larry Kleindl, Kandiyohi County family services director, said Rice Hospital is his "first choice" to serve as the hospital provider, but said the cost of renovating the building was making it more unlikely that Rice would take on the project. In an update to the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, Kleindl said the state may be asked to help find a solution.

One option is for the state to get permission from the federal government to use the building without the expensive renovations. Kleindl said correspondence he received from the Department of Human Services said the state has agreed to look for "wiggle room" and clarification in the federal requirements.

If a waiver isn't granted, County Administrator Wayne Thompson said he questioned the wisdom of spending $1 million to renovate a building that could potentially be sold in a couple years. He said MinnWest Technology, a private company that has purchased most of the Willmar Regional Treatment Center campus, has an option to buy the building where the mental health hospital would be located.

Kleindl said it may be more cost-effective to build a new facility, which could cost between $3 million and $3.5 million.

Commissioner Richard Falk said making the $1 million renovations to the existing WRTC building may be "cheapest way to go."

Other options include finding an investor, private developer or a public entity like a city or county, to build a new hospital and lease it back to Rice Hospital to operate. Kleindl said the facility could be leased to another provider, but he didn't believe there was another one in the area. Another option is to lease it back to the state to operate.

"There are different ways of doing this," Kleindl said, adding that he's concerned that the other hospitals will be up and running before Willmar's. He said a mental health hospital is needed in this area to meet the needs of clients and their families.

The county is also trying to get answers from the state Department of Human Services on federal changes that could affect local businesses that provide independent living service to people with disabilities.

A slight changing in the wording of the new program manual could make a difference in how the local providers can operate. It could also mean new expenses for the county.

Kleindl expressed frustration with the lack of communication from the state department about the changes.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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