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Otter Tail County joins in call for more mental health facilities

Deb Sjostrom. Courtesy photo.

County commissioners agreed with Human Services Director Deb Sjostrom on Jan. 23 that Minnesota's mental health system does not have the capacity to consistently respond to the needs of individuals in crisis.

"More appropriate treatment options are needed," said Sjostrom.

To that end, commissioners voted to join other counties in asking the state legislature to provide funding for more regional behavioral health program facilities and permanent supportive housing for people with behavioral health needs.

"Individuals here in Otter Tail County and across the state are experiencing a mental health crisis," said Sjostrom. "People are often diverted to jails and other facilities that are ill-equipped for their care while awaiting treatment."

New to the county jail in Fergus Falls are five new holding cells approved by county commissioners. The addition of the five new cells to the two already in place met with unanimous support from county residents.

The need for the new holding cells is reflective of the closing several years ago of the regional treatment center in Fergus Falls and the closing several months ago of the detox center in Fergus Falls which faced financial and staffing challenges.

"We've known for a long time that supportive housing and more facilities are needed," said Sjostrom. "Now it's up to counties across Minnesota to ask for state legislative support in making this a reality."

Several months ago Sjostrom informed county commissioners that a pilot program for moving people from holding cells to supportive housing was in place in Olmsted County which includes the city of Rochester.

"Minnesota's mental health continuum of care is underdeveloped," said Sjostrom, "creating harmful and expensive gaps in individual treatment."

On a positive note, Sjostrom and county commissioners say that current facilities in Otter Tail County, particularly in Fergus Falls, do a good job in meeting personal needs. However, they say more facilities are needed.

"We need to do all we can to join with other counties in seeking funds for more facilities to help those in need," said County Board Chairman Wayne Johnson of Pelican Rapids.

Commissioner Doug Huebsch of Perham says that if state funding becomes available, it will be imperative that Otter Tail County obtain its fair share of resources to go toward construction of more mental health program facilities.

Examples of what's in place at the current time

New facilities have replaced units at the former regional treatment center in Fergus Falls.

Among them is a Community Behavioral Health Facility operated by the State Department of Human Services near the roundabout on the west side of Fergus Falls.

This psychiatric facility, like others across the state, is designed as a short-term acute (small) hospital. Employees collaborate with family members, social service workers and mental health counselors to help individuals transition back to appropriate settings in communities.

A state-run Community Addiction Recovery Enterprise (CARE) facility is located in northwest Fergus Falls. This facility is designed for both day treatment and long-term treatment.

A Crisis Stabilization Unit, also in northwest Fergus Falls, is run by Productive Alternatives to help those experiencing severe mental health issues. This crisis center is short-term, for up to no more than 10 days.

All five county commissioners agree that while the aforementioned facilities are well and good, more facilities are needed. They also agree that supportive housing must be part of any new state-funded construction plans.

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