It's day eighteen of the state shutdown, and providers of crisis mental health services are still waiting for a response to their request to rehire state mental health workers.
The delay has come at a price, said Jim Riebe, who manages a crisis response team in St. Cloud.
"People are starting to crack, fall apart," he said today.
Over the weekend, three clients with severe mental illness had to be transported to an area crisis facility. In at least one of those cases, Riebe said, the crisis would've been avoided if state mental health workers were on the job.
"These people don't realize that we're running a 24-hour operation," he said, "And each day makes a difference in people's lives."
Providers in St. Cloud and Duluth rely on state workers to provide about half of the staff for crisis response teams and intensive in-home services. The employees respond to calls from people who are suicidal or experiencing a mental health crisis. Others work on teams with psychiatrists, nurses and case managers to provide intensive in-home services.
The goal is to be "a hospital without walls," one provider told me. The teams serve 78 clients, and they see many of their clients every day, sometimes twice a day - at least they did before the shutdown.
"Every morning, we're trying to figure out who's having the most difficulty," Riebe told me last week. "But sometimes the people you worry about the most are the people you don't hear from."
The shutdown also forced the closure of Bridge House, a mental health crisis facility in Duluth.
Providers petitioned Special Master Kathleen Blatz on July 7 to request that the 135 state mental health workers be deemed essential and allowed to return to work immediately.
Gov. Mark Dayton included the funding request in a long list of recommendations sent to Blatz on July 13.
Any recommendation would also need to be approved by Ramsey County District Court Judge Kathleen Gearin. The judge issued orders today regarding liquor licenses, administrative judges, training of peace officers, and birth certificates.
Court spokesman Christopher Channing says Special Master Blatz submitted her recommendation regarding the state mental health workers last week. But he wouldn't say what Blatz recommended or when Judge Gearin might take up the matter.
So our state prioritizes killing weeds in lakes over health care workers. This is why we need to stay shut down.