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Filling in the gaps in mental health care

During a presentation Tuesday during the County Board meeting, Carmen Clementson, Kandiyohi County Family Services supervisor, shows a model of the different levels of care for individuals with mental illness. Gaps in the services could mean some clients are not getting the services they need. Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange

WILLMAR -- The continuum of care the state promised would be in place for adults with mental illness, after regional treatment centers closed, has some gaps in it and people are falling through.

"It makes for some interesting times," said Carmen Clementson, a supervisor with Kandiyohi County Family Services, during a Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday.

Kandiyohi County and with 17 other counties in the Southwest Minnesota Adult Mental Health Consortium have decided they "can't wait for the state to come up with a fix," Clementson said.

Instead, entities in the 18-county area that play a role in caring for people with mental illness -- such as Rice Hospital, Woodlands Center, foster homes, intensive residential treatment services and family services -- are getting together to communicate and find ways to "do a better job of providing seamless service" to clients, she said.

Part of the problem is that each entity has its own criteria for admissions that may make it impossible for a client to move from one level of care to another.

To demonstrate, Clementson said the consortium developed a graphic display with a series of circles. In the middle are the most intense services that are available, like hospitalization.

As a client gets better and needs less acute care, the client should be able to move to the second or third ring of services, like a group home, where appropriate care is available for that stage of recovery.

But because of the state criteria for getting into the different care levels or a lack of secondary facilities, sometimes clients are forced to stay in the more extreme, and expensive, care institutions, or they may simply fall through the open spaces.

"There are many complexities in the system and many ways people could get lost in the system," Clementson said. "Even within our own systems we don't know what each other can do."

It's hoped that increased communication about the different admission guidelines will prevent people from falling through the cracks, she said.

"We've started mapping out what's in our system," she said, and members of the consortium are communicating about what service each entity provides and different ways people can access services so people aren't "missed along the way."

Kandiyohi County Family Services Director Jay Kieft said the model that's being used by the 18-county consortium is a "good planning tool" that will help identify connections in mental health services.

Kieft said it's a way to plan and focus resources "on the gaps that need fixing."

Commissioner Harlan Madsen said the next part of fixing the problem is securing solid funding. Mental health providers are forced to "chase the funding streams," he said.

In other action Tuesday:

? The commissioners approved $10,000 for the Child Guide program, a prevention program that operates in the Willmar elementary schools. Commissioner Richard Falk said he would support a one-time allocation, but if the county's financial support was needed in the future, that other school districts in the county should also be involved.

? A $10,000 allocation was approved for the Coalition for Health Adolescent Sexuality to provide educational resources to teens and parents.

Carolyn Lange

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

(320) 894-9750