After months of work, the House, Senate and the governor seem unable to reconcile their differences on the omnibus financial bill. That bill contained funding that would have addressed key issues facing Minnesota’s mental health system. While it was a positive step to pass a bonding bill in the final hour of the session, too much important work is left undone.
The school safety package included $5 million for school-linked mental health grants, as well as increasing the safe school levy to hire counselors, school social workers, and other school support personnel.
It has now been two years since the shocking Star Tribune report on the use of solitary confinement and the legislature has still not taken action. NAMI was very disappointed that a requirement for a yearly report from the Department of Corrections on the use of solitary confinement was not included in the final omnibus bill. We would like to thank Rep. Nick Zerwas (R-Elk River) for his tireless advocacy on this issue.
The lone bright spot was the passage of a bonding bill with several meaningful projects for the mental health community. NAMI is especially pleased with the $30 million in Housing Infrastructure Bonds for permanent supportive housing projects for people with a mental illness, $28.1 million for local mental health crisis centers, as well as funding for a Scott County Intensive Residential Treatment Services (IRTS) facility and SMART center in Dakota County for crisis intervention training. NAMI is grateful to Sen. David Senjem (R-Rochester), Sen. Sandy Pappas (DFL-St. Paul), Rep. Alice Hausman (DFL-St. Paul), and Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City) for their support to invest in our mental health system in this year’s bonding bill.
NAMI is most disappointed that the governor and the legislature could not reach a deal on a supplemental budget. There are a number of urgent problems that need to be addressed. Here are some of the key pieces in the bill that would have made a difference for children and adults living with a mental illness:
• Children’s Residential Mental Health Treatment: CMS determined this month that most of Minnesota’s children’s residential mental health facilities are Institutes of Mental Disease and therefore cannot receive reimbursement from Medicaid. This decision places 580 beds across 11 mental health facilities in danger. Without bridge funding, the counties will be responsible for 100 percent of the costs starting in May of 2019.
• Mental Health Parity: Under current law, private health plans that cover mental health and substance use disorder treatment must do so at an equal level with other medical or surgical benefits. This still is not happening. The omnibus bill would have created a working group with all the stakeholders, including the health plans, to work together and develop a plan to start proactively enforcing mental health parity.
• Suicide Prevention: The omnibus bill included funding for online, evidence-based suicide prevention training for teachers. This would have ensured that every teacher had access to an effective suicide prevention training across the state and especially in Greater Minnesota.
• Suicide Prevention: $969,000 for a suicide prevention hotline.
• Primary Care: Allows for a primary care residency slot to run four years instead of three years. This psychiatry residency slot was previously funded but could not be used because a residency for psychiatry is for four years and not three.
• Opioids: Over half of all opioid prescriptions are filled for people living with mental illnesses. There is an urgent need for resources to address the opioid epidemic in Minnesota that is not going to be met this year.
“We were repeatedly told that this year the legislature was eager to ‘do something’ for children and adults with mental illnesses,” said Sue Abderholden, NAMI Minnesota executive director. “This makes the almost certain failure to pass a supplemental budget even more disappointing. The pressure will be on next year to make good on these promises and take action to continue to build our mental health system.”
-Samuel Smith is public policy coordinator for NAMI Minnesota.