New mental health hospital opens

WILLMAR -- Minnesota's tenth, and final, 16-bed Community Behavioral Health Hospital was officially opened Friday in Willmar to high praises from county, city and state officials.

WILLMAR -- Minnesota's tenth, and final, 16-bed Community Behavioral Health Hospital was officially opened Friday in Willmar to high praises from county, city and state officials.

"It's a big deal for us," said Cal Ludeman, Commissioner of Minnesota Human Services, one of many who spoke during the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Willmar hospital.

Ludeman said the "capstone day" wasn't exciting just because a new, attractive building was completed, but because it was a "celebration of a lot of work by a lot of great people" who were committed to deinstitutionalizing adults with mental illness.

Willmar's Community Behavioral Health Hospital -- like the other nine throughout the state -- will provide short-term in-patient care for adults with acute mental illness so they can return to work or home.

During formal comments Kandiyohi County Administrator Larry Kleindl dedicated the hospital "to all who walk through these doors."


The hospital is part of the state's plan to provide mental health care in settings that are closer to home for clients than the four large state regional treatment centers that have now been closed, including the Willmar Regional Treatment Center.

"We are at the precipice of a dynamic change," said Rod Kornrumpf, regional administrator of State Operated Services.

Kornrumpf said Minnesota is at the "forefront" of delivering mental health care through small community-based hospitals and a variety of other programs, like intensive residential treatment group homes and assertive community treatment teams that provide care to people in their homes. There is still a large facility from chronically mentally ill individuals in Anoka and a secure facility in St. Peter.

While Minnesota has now moved away from "warehousing" clients to providing treatment close to home, Ludeman said many others states are still treating people with 19th and 20th century attitudes and methods.

Small community hospitals, like the one in Willmar, are models that others should follow, said Ludeman.

Woven throughout the numerous positive comments about the new hospital, however, was the message that the transition wasn't necessarily easy.

Kornrumpf said when he was asked to begin studying how the mental health delivery system could be deinstitutionalized in Minnesota he was greeted with burning torches and pitch forks.

There was "healthy tension," in the discussion and a series of checks and balances offered by the different players.


Mike Tessneer, CEO of State Operated Services, said Rep. Al Juhnke and former Senator Dean Johnson "held our feet to the fire" during negotiations for the hospital and the sale of the WRTC campus to MinnWest Technology.

The process was "not without its wrestling match," said Juhnke.

Tessneer said when the transition was launched in 2003, representatives from the 18 counties from this region "banded together" and offered "spirited" discussion that helped develop a workable plan.

"This has been a heck of a journey," said Larry Kleindl, who was handed the project when he began his new job as Kandiyohi County administrator. He admitted, half jokingly, that he had "terrible visions" early on in the process whenever he heard the name Mike Tessneer.

Tessneer gave a nod of acknowledgment to the 300 or so WRTC employees, who "took the brunt of the change" by being forced to choose whether to retire, take a similar job in a different community or work at the Willmar hospital, which has 35 full-time positions.

It was a "huge sacrifice" for those employees, he said.

Other communities in the region wanted the hospital built in their towns. Legislators and county and city officials made sure it stayed in Willmar, said Kornrumpf.

Ludeman said the Willmar hospital is an example of a "great partnership" between the city, county and state. "It's a great testament to the citizens of Willmar at large," said Ludeman, who said the picturesque site was "perfect" for the hospital.


When the site was first proposed, however, community residents spoke against the facility, saying it would devalue their property.

Sen. Joe Gimse said he hopes the negative "misconception" that some Willmar residents initially had about the hospital being built in their neighborhood is transformed into a positive relationship. "We need to accept change in our community," he said.

Now that the 16-bed hospital is completed and clients are expected to start arriving next week, Juhnke said the state needs to focus on the unmet needs of people who have long-term mental health needs and require hospitalization for longer than 60 days. Juhnke said the state also needs to prepare for the mental health needs of veterans.

Carmen Clementson, Kandiyohi County Family Services supervisor and a member of the 18-county group that debated what the new system should look like, said it's important now to keep moving ahead with mental health treatment. "Eyes forward," she said.

Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at or 320-894-9750
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