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< MFL trade made | Main | Is this any way to treat a Speaker? >

Issue: Minnesota's mental health system.

Posted at 10:09 AM on March 16, 2007 by Bob Collins (3 Comments)

One of these days I'm going to write a book about how and why things get people's attention -- in and out of newsrooms. First, I've got to figure it out for myself. Thirty years doing this and I still can't figure it out., which is too bad because people ask me all the time, "how do you decide what to cover?" Honest to God, I haven't a clue. I do know there are more stories out there than people to cover them; I guess I can start with that. But how do we explain what stories (Anna Nicole Smith anyone?) that have absolutely no relevance to anyone's life, getting attention when other stories, that do have a direct impact on people, run into indifference?

We're into the third month of the 2007 session of the Minnesota Legislature and it still feels like nothing is happening, mostly because -- technically -- nothing is happening. We're at the committee hearing stage of things and I guess there's lots of drama in big floor debates. But the humanity of the legislative process, I contend, is in the committee stage because that's when real people get to testify.

I've mentioned previously that tax relief, health care, and transportation, while they've gotten most of the attention of the media and legislators, isn't the real new stuff that's happening. The arguments are pretty much the same we've always heard and the results -- that is to say none, so far -- are the same results we always get.

When the Senate leaders put their wallets back in their pocket last week, and proved that DFLers can backtrack as well as any Republican can, I think everyone pretty much gave up on any significant change being brought about by the "new" legislature.

But there's one area where that's not the case, and it's gotten almost no coverage, until today: Minnesota's mental health system. Disclaimer: my wife has worked --tirelessly-- on behalf of efforts such as this, and I don't pretend to be objective. But then again, I don't think anyone should pretend to be.

It's still a relatively stigmatized topic and that -- I suspect -- accounts for the lack of interest (it has a high "ick" factor) by the rank-and-file, but this session it's crawled out of whatever closet Minnesota has tried to keep it in. There has been some significant legislation working its way through the Legislature this year, and it culminated yesterday with a Senate hearing on the governor's mental health initiative -- SF1025. The hearing, which you can watch here, was held before the Finance Committee's Health and Human Services Budget Division.

And what we learned -- for those who didn't already know it -- is Minnesota's mental health system is broken, and there are actual attempts -- bipartisan attempts -- to fix it in this legislation by beginning, for one thing, to move it from a social services only issue to consider it a medical issue. That's a small, but significant part of the legislation that's been gaining steam -- quietly -- this session. But it's a big part. Years from now we'll look back on the country's treatment of the mentally ill, and shake our heads the way we do know when we think about burning people because we thought they were witches. But as a civilization, we haven't reached that level of knowledge yet.

One woman testified that her brother, who suffered from bipolar disorder, went to a doctor because he'd lost so much weight. The doctor, since the kid had a mental health issue, just assumed the problem was related and sent him home. Six weeks later, he was dead. It was cancer of the stomach. "It's a lot easier having cancer, than having bipolar disorder," he told is sister in a commentary on how people view two diseases, both medical.

This bill, as well as HF196 and SF148, are big reasons why Rep. Mindy Greiling and Sen. John Marty -- and Sen. Linda Berglin -- have moved so high in the MFL Power Rankings.

Anyway, long story short: the Star Tribune gave it the first significant coverage of the year with a top-of-the-page editorial today. Granted it focused only on the incarceration problem -- we're not far removed from Titicutt Follies -- but it's a start.

It's not as funny, or easily told, as bills to prevent the sale of American flags made in China. It's just more substantive.

Comments (3)

Thank goodness you linked to wikipedia I never would have understood the reference to Titicut Follies.

I think we are looking at, for some people, a societal education about the needs of our military men and women, in regards to needing some mental health treatment, and that this education is spilling over to all people who need mental health assistance.

Posted by Brian Hanf | March 16, 2007 12:37 PM

Titicut Follies -- and I remember at the time being a native of Massachusetts -- exposed the mental health system at the time in the Bay State. The response to it? Ban it from being shown.

Crazy world, eh?

Posted by Bob Collins | March 16, 2007 12:57 PM

Rep. Patti Fritz and Sen. Sharon Ropes Erickson are sponsoring bills to improve psychological counseling services for military veterans in the House and Senate. Getting appropriations for the bill(s) will be a challenge. This was not in the list of items that the governor wanted for veterans and military, so the items on his shopping list, the license plate expansion, tuition assistance changes, etc., will likely get into the Veterans Omnibus bill, while this effort to provide for the services vets may need most, seems in greater danger of being left behind due to priorities of some leaders, like those that set the budget goals for the Senate.

Don't want this left behind? Call you senator and your representative and tell them that Veterans health care should not have to take a back seat to K-12 Education.

What do these two know about veterans mental health?

Fritz is an LPN and the daughter of a WWII vet, the spouse of a Vietnam vet, and the mother of a Marine. Ropes Erickson is a former Navy nurse and the spouse of an M.D.

Fritz's bill, HF1612; Short Description: Veterans and soldiers counseling services access improved, and money appropriated.

Co-sponsors: Juhnke; Greiling; Kelliher; Heidgerken; Nelson; Moe; Abeler; Welti; Bigham

Companion Bill: SF1875

Senate Authors: Erickson Ropes; Clark; Dille; Prettner Solon; Jungbauer

Bill excerpt below.

2.1 Sec. 2. NEEDS ASSESSMENT REQUIRED. By November 1, 2007, the commissioner of veterans affairs and the adjutant general of the National Guard shall jointly report to the chair and ranking minority member of each committee in the senate and house of representatives with jurisdiction over the policy or finance of veterans affairs and military affairs regarding the psychological status and needs of soldiers and veterans returning to Minnesota after having served in support of contingency operations for Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. The report must provide the best relevant insights into and advice concerning how to most effectively provide the psychological support services determined to be needed by those soldiers and veterans.

Posted by Anonymous | March 16, 2007 8:13 PM