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Tight state funds creating bottleneck in mental health system; Willmar's newest facility feeling the squeeze

WILLMAR -- Since it began taking patients in September, Willmar's new 16-bed mental health hospital has been at or near capacity, but a shortage of state and federal funds is creating a "bottleneck" in where those patients go when they're discharged.

Kevin Bollin, director of Willmar's Community Behavioral Health Hospital, told the Kandiyohi County Commissioners this week that that the average stay for clients at the hospital should be 14 to 17 days.

But the lack of money has created a shortage of options for long-term housing for those suffering from chronic and persistent mental illness, Bollin said.

As a result, some clients stay 30 or 40 days or even more.

"There's no place for them to go," Bollin said. "It's jamming up."

Willmar's new acute psychiatric hospital was the last of 10 to be built in Minnesota to take the place of the regional treatment centers, including the Willmar Regional Treatment Center.

Ideally, patients spend a short time at the residential hospital for treatment and then go to group homes, "intensive residential treatment services" facilities or return home and receive follow-up care from "assertive community treatment" teams that travel from client to client.

But Bollin said funding for those support services is "is shrinking."

"Money is tight," Bollin said.

The state's mental health program showing an $8 million deficit.

"As money shrinks in the state for all types of services, the system shrinks," Bollin said. "There are less resources and less beds available outside."

In some regions of the state, the bottleneck has meant that beds at psychiatric hospital may not have space in communities close to where patients live -- which was one of the goals of the restructuring of the state's mental health system -- and people have to travel to open beds in other towns.

The 16-bed hospitals were the "last piece of the pie" to be put in place for the state's new continuum of mental health care, but Bollin said, "all of those pieces of the pie need to be in place and working well."

Besides a shortage of placement options for after-hospital care, Bollin said a state study shows there is also a shortage of psychiatrists. Bollin said Carmen Clementson, a supervisor with Kandiyohi County's family services department, is coordinating collaborative efforts between other community providers of mental health services, like Woodland Center and Rice Memorial Hospital, to help meet the mental health needs of clients by pooling resources, including psychiatrists.

Clementson said the county "can't wait for fixes" from the state, which is why local entities are working to fix the problems now.

Carolyn Lange

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

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