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Kandiyohi County endorses plan that would keep mental health facility open in Willmar, Minn.

WILLMAR — A gap in adult mental health care in rural Minnesota, and the looming closure date of the 16-bed specialty care facility in Willmar, has resulted in a proposal to develop a new type of residential treatment center there.

The Minnesota Department of Human Services is requesting proposals for a demonstration site that could answer both concerns.

Proposals to provide the new service at the Willmar facility must be submitted to the state by March 15.

If it becomes a reality, the new program could provide a missing link in adult mental health care in Greater Minnesota, said Corinne Torkelson, Kandiyohi County family services supervisor.

During a report Tuesday to the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners, Torkelson said the 18-county mental health consortium has been struggling to find adequate care for mentally ill adults with challenging “high needs.”

Currently those individuals from Greater Minnesota cycle in and out of the state’s only regional treatment center, which is located in Anoka.

There is a shortage of beds there, and a waiting list can be 100 deep, resulting in delays that can last for weeks.

Torkelson told the commissioners that although these high-need clients may have their medical mental health needs met in the average 30- to 45-day stay at Anoka, that’s not long enough to change persistent behavioral issues.

When they leave Anoka, many local after-care facilities are not able to stabilize those behaviors and the clients end up back in Anoka — if there’s an open bed.

Sometimes discharges from Anoka are delayed because an appropriate community facility is not available for a step-down program. That creates a shortage of space for those that need to get back into Anoka, said Torkelson.

Sometimes those individuals end up in jail or in Rice Memorial Hospital’s mental health unit, she said.

The consortium and the state worked together to develop a plan for a new program that is a step below treatment offered at Anoka and a couple steps above community treatment facilities.

It would provide a place to meet the needs of high-need clients on a longer-term basis and stabilize them before they go back into the community, said Torkelson.

The target population would be individuals from Greater Minnesota whose stay at the secure facility in Willmar could last six months or more, she said.

In the proposal, the state is specifically requesting that the program be located at the Willmar facility.

That would be good news for the county, which provided $3 million in up-front funding for the five-year-old building on Olena Avenue Southeast that was originally built to be a residential facility for individuals with acute mental health needs.

Shortly after the facility opened, it was quickly determined the original program was not meeting state needs. The services, type of clients and name of the Willmar facility has been changed several times.

Current legislation calls for the facility to close in June of this year.

The commissioners endorsed the proposal to offer the new program here, which could keep the Willmar facility open for at least three years, with options for extensions.

Commissioner Roger Imdieke said keeping those jobs here is important.

Torkelson said it could also save the county money.

Counties currently pay 50 percent of the cost of clients from their communities for stays in Anoka that exceed 60 days. That cost could increase to 75 percent in the future, said Torkelson.

She said it would be less expensive to house clients in Willmar and the longer-term treatment could be more effective for the clients.

Carolyn Lange

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

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