Minnesota’s mobile crisis system for responding to people suffering from mental health emergencies has been thrown into uncertainty, due to bureaucratic delays at the state agency responsible for overseeing the service.
Across the state, local agencies that respond to people experiencing suicidal thoughts and other mental health crises are warning of disrupted services because the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) has failed to deliver tens of millions of dollars in grant contracts that help cover the cost of the life-saving program.
Mental health providers say the timely delivery of grant contracts is critical. Without them, they can’t pay for round-the-clock call centers and mobile crisis teams that travel to homes, schools, hospitals and elsewhere to provide counseling and nonviolent conflict resolution.
The mobile teams operate in every county and fill a crucial gap in the health care system, coming to the aid of those who often are too incapacitated by mental illness to visit a clinic or seek professional help. They also reduce burdens on local law enforcement, which often isn’t equipped to handle mental health emergencies.
Yet crisis responders have been operating in financial limbo since late December when the Behavioral Health Division at DHS notified them of delays in completing their contracts. The agency noted that drafts of their grant contracts would not be ready until the end of January — which providers say is more than a month late.
As a result, crisis responders have been put in the extraordinary position of having to provide a safety net service without contracts or assurances they will be paid.
“It’s frustrating and disheartening because this is a vital service that we can’t just shut off,” said Ashley Kjos, chief executive of Woodland Centers, a Willmar nonprofit that provides mobile crisis services in seven counties. “It’s not like we can say, ‘Sorry, we don’t have a contract so we can’t take your calls.’ We are their lifeline.”
DHS officials declined a Star Tribune request for an interview. But in written statements, assistant commissioner Eric Grumdahl said the contract delays stem from leadership transitions, staff turnover and a shift in contract management processes. He said mobile crisis providers can continue to provide services, though they won’t be paid until grant contracts are finalized. The agency doesn’t expect delays in payments to providers because the contracts should be ready by the time first-quarter invoices are received, he said.
Grumdahl, who oversees the Behavioral Health Division, said the contract delays are related to the rollout of a new contract management system — “a one-time transitional impact” — that will streamline contract renewals across the agency. Crisis responders say they have been kept in the dark about the reasons for the contract delays, which have already caused service disruptions.
(Source: Star Tribune)