Mental Health Initiative

On February 24, Governor Tim Pawlenty announced new and redirected government funds slated to improving mental health services for children and adults, www.governor.state.mn.us. The funds include $49.5 million from the Health Care Access Fund and $59 million in redirected investments. Changes will be spearheaded by the Minnesota Mental Health Action Group (MMHAG), a coalition of public and private people and groups working on mental health reform.

During the announcement, Governor Pawlenty said, “Our current mental healthcare system needs improvement and this initiative will deliver significant advancements in access, quality and accountability.” Reports indicate that over the past 3 years, 25% of caregivers and 30% of children in the state’s welfare system were diagnosed with a serious mental health disorder. Currently, there is a shortage of mental healthcare professionals in Minnesota, including psychiatrists.

Changes will be focused on delivering effective care in a timely and efficient manner, providing incentives to alleviate the shortage of mental healthcare professionals, and the coordination of caregiving services, most notably in the provision between health and mental health services.

The Initiative’s Key Elements

Adopting a consistent mental health benefit set across the Department of Human Services (DHS) programs: Recipients of General Assistance Medical Care (GAMC), Minnesota Care, and Prepaid Medical Assistance Program (PMAP) will have access to mental healthcare programs modeled after Medical Assistance (MA) and fee-for-service recipients.

Integrating care systems: The goal is to improve coordination between mental health- care, physical healthcare and social services by integrating the payment and service model. This is also anticipated to offset the potential loss of federal funds.

Shore up children’s school-based mental services infrastructure: Changes in federal regulations reduced funding sources for these services. This is designed to ensure payment of those services for uninsured and under-insured children.

Develop statewide mental health crisis intervention and stabilization infrastructure as a first-line safety net for children and adults: Lack of mental health crisis services in communities places an undue burden on hospital level care. The provision of community level crisis services will alleviate the resultant shortage of psychiatric bed capacity. In effect it may also assist individuals in maintaining their independence within the community.

Monitor and track availability of mental health services: To ensure the availability and adequate funding of mental health services, a coordinated system needs to be in place to monitor and track these services. Psychiatric acute care capacity will be the first target area.

Develop and support evidence-based practices: The goal is to develop standardized assessment tools and interventions and treatments that are based on short-term and long-term outcomes. It will also include licensing and accreditation tracking and consumer and provider feedback.

Address workforce shortages, including psychiatrists and other critical mental health professionals: Today there is a shortage of psychiatrists and other professionals. The cost in life and quality of life to consumers stresses the importance of alleviating the long waiting periods for psychiatric and other services. The goal is to enhance reimbursement rates for providers who serve a high proportion of clients receiving public assistance.

Develop capacity to address the mental healthcare needs of specialty populations: Some mental health disorders are not common enough to be sufficiently supported by sources outside of the state or county government. Specialty populations include those with eating disorders, co-occurring disorders (psychiatric disorder and substance abuse, et al), culturally specific treatment needs and attachment disorders (children lacking secure attachments with caregivers develop an array of emotional, behavioral, social, cognitive, developmental, physical, and moral problems with a tendency to perpetuate the cycle with their own children) www.attachmentexperts.com. In some cases, treatment needs are purchased outside of Minnesota.

Create a system for measuring mental health service outcomes: The goal is to develop a Web-based statewide system to evaluate the outcomes of mental health services. This centralized system ensures the continued monitoring and improvement of mental healthcare services.

To learn more about the mental health initiative and planned events, visit the MMHAG Web site at www.citizensleague.net/mentalhealth/ or telephone (612) 338-0791. Readers may also take advantage of the Mental Health Day on the Hill on March 28, 2006. This annual event is sponsored by the Mental Health Legislative Network, it offers individuals and families an opportunity to demonstrate their support for increased funding and improved policies for mental health services.

A legislative briefing will be held at 10:00 am at Christ Lutheran Church just across the street from the Capitol. There will a rally at 12 noon in the Rotunda of the Capitol. Visits with Legislators are scheduled to begin at 1:00 pm Individual and group appointments need to be made in advance. Additional information is available at www.leg.state. mn.us.leg or one of the following: Mental Health Association of Minnesota at 612-331-6840 or 1-800-862-1799; National Alliance on Mental Illness of MN at 651-645-2948 or 1-888-473-0237.