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Kandiyohi County employees work across department lines to better services

WILLMAR — When people with mental illness end up in the county jail and on probation, it can be difficult for the individuals and county workers who are trying to provide appropriate services.

But a new program, and a new commitment to work across department lines in Kandiyohi County, could have positive results.

At their meeting Tuesday the Kandiyohi County Commissioners heard about ways the Community Corrections Department, Family Services Department, the jail’s program coordinator and Veterans Service Office are working together to use a combination of services to meet the needs of people in jails and in the probation system who are also mentally ill.

The group is modeling the program on one being used in Stearns County called “Release Advanced Planning,” or RAP, that allows the different departments to work together to “bridge some of the gaps” in services, said Deb West, director of Kandiyohi County Community Corrections.

About six months ago the group had also created a separate “team approach” program to discuss needs of specific prisoners with mental illness and look for programs that can be accessed while they are in jail and when they’re released.

“They have a real difficult time in jail,” said Bob Tepfer, a community corrections officer. It’s also difficult for many to keep appointments with probation officers when they are released from jail, he said.

The goal of the new program is to help mentally ill prisoners by matching them up with existing programs so that they can return to the community without re-offending and ending up back in jail, said Tepfer.

A major part of the Release Advanced Planning and the team approach programs has been the breaking down of barriers between the departments.

Even though they serve many of the same people, the departments have their own “language” that’s gradually dissolving as they work together, learn from each other and pool resources, said Tepfer.

Linda Berghuis, who coordinates programs in the Kandiyohi County Jail, said she was not aware of all the community programs that inmates could access until she started meeting with the other county departments. Learning about ways to help those individuals “transition out of jail” has been a positive step, she said.

Since the closure of Minnesota’s regional mental health hospitals about a decade ago, a growing number of individuals with chronic mental illness end up in county jails, said Corinne Torkelson, Kandiyohi County Family Services supervisor.

“It’s creating lots of extra challenges,” said Torkelson.

She estimates that about 17 percent of Minnesota’s “second most needy” mental health population ends up in jail.

Torkelson said there have been many positive aspects of closing regional treatment centers, but that the issue of more mentally ill people landing in jail is a piece of the puzzle that has not been fixed yet.

The Commissioners praised the different departments for working cooperatively.

“This is very commendable,” said Chairman Harlan Madsen.

“I think we’re at the right place at the right time,” said Commissioner Jim Butterfield.

Kandiyohi County Administrator Larry Kleindl said this new cooperative program is another way county employees are working together to create a more cohesive and efficient way of operating that’s part of the county’s overall plan to redesign its operations.

“I am so proud of you,” said Kleindl.

Meanwhile, the Board of Commissioners also heard an update about a proposal to merge the Housing and Redevelopment Authority from the county and city of Willmar. The two programs currently have one director and one office location but different staff and a different set of guidelines.

Springsted Inc. has been hired to help the two entities work through a merger transition, which Kleindl said is complex and may be the only one of its kind in Minnesota.

In other action:

- The commissioners approved tax abatements that will help new owners of two businesses in Sunburg make improvements: Sondrol Service Station and the Sunburg Trading Post.

Approval was also given to a 10-year tax abatement for Torgerson Properties Inc. in Willmar, that was also approved by the city of Willmar. The project includes a major construction project to the Holiday Inn and Willmar Convention Center. The commissioners also approved an agreement — pending final review by the county attorney and administrator — that could force Torgerson Properties to repay the abatements if goals are not met for things like job creation.  

- The commissioners approved an agreement with the city of Willmar for the completion of a road across the Industrial Park. The county’s share of the project is $360,000.

- A bid of $1,887,222 from Duininck Inc. was approved for grading and bituminous projects in the county. It was the lowest of two bids, but higher than the $1.7 million estimate. The high cost of asphalt in the last couple years has reduced the county’s purchasing power for road repairs and construction.

- The commissioners approved resolutions to install monitoring wells on property near the landfill to test water samples. The wells are located on private property owned by three separate families.

Carolyn Lange

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

(320) 894-9750