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State continues to look for partners in mental health care

State officials say they won't walk away from Willmar's 16-bed sub-acute care facility, but they are looking for "creative partnerships" from the region. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- The state is continuing to look for partners to take over providing mental health care services at Willmar's 16-bed sub-acute care facility. But any changes would have to come at the request of the region, not the state.

Even though some of the state's new 16-bed mental health hospitals have closed, and the purpose and clientele at the Willmar facility has changed in the last year, the Department of Human Services is committed to keeping the in-patient facility here open.

"We are not walking away," said Patrice Vick, a spokeswoman with the Department of Human Services, in an e-mail response to questions.

"As approved by the 2010 Legislature, we are providing sub-acute extended psychiatric care at the Willmar program and working with the region to ensure this meets their needs," she said.

The Willmar facility began its service as a Community Behavioral Health Hospital providing acute psychiatric care. This summer, it was turned into what local officials described as a "step-down" facility for individuals with mental illness and renamed Minnesota Psychiatric Services -- Willmar.

Local officials at the time said clients who no longer needed acute care, but weren't yet stable enough to transition into a residential setting, had no middle ground to move to. The Willmar facility is now providing that.

On Tuesday, in responding to questions from the Kandiyohi County Commissioners, Dr. Rick Lee, director of Woodland Centers, said he believes that if the region's 18-county mental health consortium doesn't take the lead in deciding what kind of services are provided, the state is "willing to walk away" from the Willmar facility.

Vick said that won't happen.

County Administrator Larry Kleindl also said the state has reassured the county that the facility will remain open. The county borrowed money to pay to construct the building and will recoup costs over the next 10 years from state lease payments.

Vick said the state is continuing to "look for creative partnerships" that would "need to be brought forward from the region and reviewed by a state task force."

Changes would be at the request of the region and would be reviewed by the Chemical and Mental Health Services Transformation Advisory Task Force established at the Legislature's direction, said Vick.

The task force is meeting in preparation of reports to the Legislature due this fall.

Woodland Centers, which provides a variety of mental health care services at a center in Willmar, is one of the potential community partners that could take over operations of the 16-bed facility if financial incentives would ensure they wouldn't lose money, said Lee.

He said the state has "made it abundantly clear they do not want to be a provider of services."

Commissioner Harlan Madsen said he believes a local partner, like Woodland Centers, would do a better job than the state.

Family Services Director Jay Kieft said the regional consortium is "actively involved" in looking for the best ways to serve residents, which could include new partnerships.

Carolyn Lange

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

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