As we observe Mental Health Month this May, milestones are being reached in a remarkable transition of Minnesota’s adult mental health services away from institutions to community settings.
Consumers, their advocates and policy makers have long favored having mental health services close to where people live and work. The numerous benefits of this approach include:
• Allowing people with mental illness to draw on their natural supports of family and friends;
• Reducing the incidence and duration of hospitalizations by offering a variety of treatment and support services; and,
• Maximizing the ability of people with mental illness to retain housing during hospital visits.
County regional planning groups, consumers, advocates and the Department of Human Services (DHS) have been engaged over the past several years in this effort. Re-directing institutional services’ resources to an array of community-based services is the result of research that has proven these services to be effective in improving the lives of people with mental illness. These new services include:
• Assertive Community Treatment Teams: These groups of professionals come from multiple disciplines serving as “hospitals without walls.” People with serious mental illness who need this level of treatment will receive intensive, round-the-clock supports in their homes, at work and elsewhere in the community.
• Intensive Residential Treatment Facilities: These places will serve people who otherwise would have unnecessary, extended hospital stays.
• Crisis Response Providers: These groups will deliver an array of services, from mobile crisis teams to short-term crisis stabilization beds that help divert individuals from unnecessary hospital stays.
These new services complement other supports, including outpatient treatment. They will also reinforce the help people with mental illness receive in order to work and to manage various activities of daily life.
Psychiatric hospital capacity also is being developed in more Minnesota communities so that people can be treated closer to their homes and families.
New 16-bed psychiatric hospitals slated to open this year are located in Alexandria, Bemidji, Brainerd, Fergus Falls, Monticello, Rochester, St. Cloud, St. Peter and Wadena. Regional planners have determined these facilities should be run by State Operated Services, the part of DHS that provides direct care to people with disabilities. Promising discussions about expanding inpatient psychiatric capacity in community hospitals also are occurring in Cambridge, Hibbing, Mar-shall and Willmar.
The new psychiatric hospital capacity will be in addition to the 15 community hospitals across Minnesota under contract to provide inpatient care to adults. Total capacity will be similar to what exists today in the state’s regional treatment center system. However, expanded community-based treatment and supports will allow hospitals to be used for those who truly need inpatient care. The need will lessen for hospitals to serve as interim placement for people who cannot return home because housing with supports is not available.
Development of the community-based services is naturally leading to the closure of regional treatment centers. This will free resources for further reinvestment in mental health service improvements. New services are expected to make it possible to discontinue providing inpatient mental health services on the Brainerd, Fergus Falls, St. Peter and Willmar campuses within the next year.
While Minnesota’s restructured adult mental health services are based on state-of-the-art, research-proven techniques in treatment, the movement toward community-based services for people with mental illness and other disabilities is decades old. This Mental Health Month, it is encouraging to see a vision long held by mental health consumers, their advocates and policymakers becoming a reality.