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Health funding bills would cover lost federal mental health funding

ST. PAUL--Minnesota lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton agree that more funding is needed to house Minnesota children whose mental illnesses require residential treatment.

ST. PAUL-Minnesota lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton agree that more funding is needed to house Minnesota children whose mental illnesses require residential treatment.

Health and human services funding proposals from Dayton, the House and Senate each include more than $6 million in funding over two years to offset looming losses of federal funding.

The state is slated to lose federal money in 2018, which would include children's residential mental health facilities with more than 16 beds.

The Minnesota Department of Human services estimates that the lost funding would mean losing about 700 children's residential beds throughout the state.

Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper said the funding would ease financial load for counties, which administer services like health care under state supervision.

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Without adequate funding for the facilities, Piper said, counties "are the ones that are going to have to make up 100 percent of the difference."

"Ultimately, county levies should need not step in to fill the voids that the federal government is leaving," she said.

All three proposals also include plans to redesign how the state delivers children's mental health care to improve outcomes and attract more federal funding in the future.

"On top of the funding, we also get to look at: 'Are there other types of intensive services we can offer children so they wouldn't need residential care?'" said Sue Abderholden, executive director at the National Alliance on Mental Health Minnesota. "And at least for now we don't have to lose those 700 beds, which we thought was really important."

Abderholden said counties also would see some financial relief through proposed mental health innovation grants.

The $4 million grants, proposed in House and Senate bills, would help offset costs counties accrue when residents are committed to state mental hospitals.

The state hospital cost is shifted to counties once a resident who is committed no longer medically requires hospitalization.

For rural counties with lower populations, these costs can eat away at funds that would otherwise be used for service at a local level.

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Northwestern Mental Health Center serves a six-county region in Minnesota's northwestern corner, where the population in some areas can dip as low as four people per square mile. The sparse population and mental health infrastructure mean the nonprofit organization often relies on telemedicine and mobile crisis teams to deliver their services.

Chief Executive Officer Shauna Reitmeier said the innovation grants could help expand their services with additional staff and more intensive services.

"It's going to allow us to be more creative in how we design service delivery," she said. "If you've got someone who's struggling a little bit longer, it would allow for more wrap-around care and more flexibility to meet the needs of the region."

House and Senate bills, however, differ on other mental health grants.

The House proposes spending $4 million over two years for school-linked mental health grants.

Providers would receive grants to offer mental health services in schools, which Abderholden said helps eliminate barriers like transportation.

Another House-sponsored grant proposal would allocate $1.5 million over two years to treat psychotic episodes earlier.

Abderholden said that although first psychotic episodes typically start during the early teen years, they are rarely treated.

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"What we do now is, you go to your doctor, your doctor says you have cancer, come back when you hit stage four," she said. "We don't do anything until these young people get really, really sick and have been hospitalized numerous times."

Neither of the grants appear on the Senate bill, but Senate legislation would fund a program that aims to help rural youth with mental illness gain independence.

The Senate proposed $1.2 million over two years to establish a multi-county program that would help teenagers and young adults with behavioral and mental disorders transition successfully into adulthood.

The grant makes up a small portion of a $15 billion Senate health and human services bill, an amount that calls for about $333 million worth of cuts to current spending.

The $13.7 billion proposal from the House would nearly double the cuts with a $623 million spending reduction.

Both bills represent a contrast from Gov. Mark Dayton's budget proposal, which outlined a $338 million increase over two years.

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