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Mental health programs in danger of being cut in proposed state budget

WILLMAR -- Mental health care programs could be reduced in the next biennium because of proposed state budget cuts.

In a report Tuesday to the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners, family services supervisor Carmen Clementson said programs that have helped meet needs of children and adults with mental health issues could be at risk.

She told the commissioners it can take 15 years to build a strong mental health program in a community and days to destroy it if funding is pulled.

Cuts being considered by the House and Senate conference committee, which includes reductions to a variety of health and human service programs, appear to be targeted at the "voiceless and most disadvantaged," said Family Services Director Jay Kieft. "These are times when we have to be very loud."

One mental health program that has had success with children in the county is the mobile youth crisis response team that can be dispatched to help a child experiencing a mental health crisis. The intervention takes place in the home rather than taking a child to a residential facility.

Clementson said that mobile program is scheduled to be cut from the state budget, but so far funding for the school-based mental health program is safe.

State budget proposals call for reducing adult mental health grants $13.5 million.

When it comes to mental health care, Clementson said prevention programs are the most effective and cost-efficient. She said it's easier to work in the "shallow end of the pool" rather than help someone who's struggling to survive in the deep end of mental illness.

When early intervention funding is cut, the treatment costs can be high. "We can pay on one end or the other," she said.

Clementson, who is retiring in November, took the opportunity in her final annual report to speak about the need for education about mental health and a change in terminology when people talk about those who have mental illness.

Quoting a newspaper editorial, Clementson said people with heart disease aren't called a "heart attack." Likewise, people suffering from schizophrenia should not be called a schizophrenic. "They are not the disease," she said.

In a summary of 2010 activity, Clementson said the county has made many positive changes, including utilizing a nurse to help medically fragile clients who also have mental illness and implementing a new mental health rating scale for screening adults.

A change has also been made a change in how the county conducts chemical use assessments for those seeking public funding to pay for the treatment -- Rule 25 assessments. In the past, county employees did the assessments. Now the process is conducted by Woodland Centers and Project Turnabout, which is expected to save the county money.

She said many residential chemical use treatment programs in the state have closed for financial reasons, and she said there are currently no residential treatment facilities anywhere in Minnesota for someone who speaks only Spanish. A Willmar program, Divine Hope Counseling, recently began providing outpatient treatment for Spanish-speaking clients.

Kieft said a proposal in the state budget would limit chemical dependency treatment to three times a year or four times in a lifetime and would increase the county's share of treatment costs.

The commissioners praised Clementson for her "passion" and knowledge with mental health and chemical dependency issues.

She said she's appreciated the commissioners' depth of knowledge and support for human services issues and programs. "That's been a joy," she said. "It's a gift."

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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