Plan B initiated for psychiatric unit after Rice decision

WILLMAR -- The Minnesota Department of Human Services is pulling plan B out of its pocket for developing a 16-bed psychiatric hospital somewhere in the 18-county area of southwest Minnesota.

WILLMAR -- The Minnesota Department of Human Services is pulling plan B out of its pocket for developing a 16-bed psychiatric hospital somewhere in the 18-county area of southwest Minnesota.

The action is needed following a decision this week by Rice Memorial Hospital not to participate in a partnership with the state to operate a facility in Willmar.

The hospital's board and administration, which had been discussing the proposal for almost two years, cited the financial cost of remodeling a building for the hospital, the financial risk of operating the program and problems with recruiting psychiatrists as primary reasons for saying no. Plan B means the state will operate the facility in a new building built by a private developer.

Because Rice has backed out, the hospital could be built somewhere other than Willmar.

"Certainly, I'm disappointed," said Rod Kornrumpf, administrator for adult mental health services with the Department of Human Services. "I'm disappointed that it took so long."


Willmar had been made the priority location because of Rice's involvement, but Kornrumpf said if the state had known a year ago that Rice wasn't going to participate, the new hospital could have been built and in operation by now.

"But circumstances are what they are," he said and plans are to move forward.

"My first choice was to have Rice Hospital take on this venture," said Larry Kleindl, Kandiyohi County Family Services director and county administrator-designate. He said he's disappointed that won't happen, but said he understands the hospital's concern with what could have been a "risky venture."

Kleindl said all the parties involved with the negotiations "did everything they could" to make it happen. He said there is a good second plan in place and the state will move forward on the project.

The hospital, originally planned for Willmar, was one of a dozen community acute psychiatric care hospitals that would replace the adult mental health program currently at the Willmar Regional Treatment Center.

Community hospitals are already up and running in Alexandria, St. Peter, Wadena and Fergus Falls and more are in the works.

Once all the community-based hospitals are operating, the program at the WRTC will be shut down and the building closed.

"We have been waiting for a decision to be made," said Peggy Heglund, Yellow Medicine Family Services director and chairwoman of the Southwest Mental Health Initiative, which includes 18 area counties. "It has been a long wait."


Heglund said she doesn't fault Rice Hospital for taking time to analyze the financial feasibility of the proposal but said because of the late timing of Rice's decision it's doubtful a new facility will be built yet this year, meaning the programs will have to continue for another year at the WRTC.

The good news, from Heglund's perspective, is that other communities west of Willmar will have a chance to be the host community for the hospital. She said towns in Chippewa County or Big Stone County may provide easier access to clients than Willmar.

She said the 18-county consortium, which meets Aug. 11, will discuss potential locations.

Kornrumpf said the developer will need to consider a variety of criteria, like the population base of clients and access to medical and emergency services, when proposing a location.

Kleindl said he hopes local developers come forward with a plan to build the hospital in Kandiyohi County.

He said Willmar has the necessary resources to host the hospital, but said Kandiyohi County is a partner in the 18-county consortium and all 18 counties are in need of hospital beds.

Since a $100 a day increase was implemented July 1, it costs $1,068 a day for each client in the adult mental health program at the WRTC. Counties pay 20 percent of the cost for the first 90 days and 50 percent of the cost after 90 days.

With the community-based hospitals, insurance companies can be billed for services.


Kleindl said a statewide and nationwide shortage of psychiatrists needs to be addressed to help meet needs in rural communities. He said the same emphasis that is being made to bring dentists and medical doctors to rural areas should be given to bringing psychiatrists here.

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