Lawmaker unveils plan to delay closing of mental health facilitiesby Tim Pugmire, Minnesota Public Radio,
Madeleine Baran, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — A key DFL lawmaker unveiled a plan Monday to stop or delay the closure of several state facilities that serve the mentally ill and disabled.
The move would prevent more than 200 staff layoffs.
State Sen. Linda Berglin of Minneapolis said she will include more than $8 million in a health and human services budget bill to keep the current services and facilities intact.
Department of Human Services officials announced the planned layoffs and closures last month as part of a "redesign" of the State Operated Services division.
The proposed changes would cut $17 million from State Operated Services, a program that provides direct care to people with mental illness, developmental disabilities, and traumatic brain injuries.
The proposed cuts would be implemented over the next 14 months, and include the closure of the Community Behavioral Health Hospital-Cold Spring, the 10-bed Mankato Crisis Center, and the state-operated adult mental health residential facility in Eveleth. The plan would also eliminate state-operated dental services for people with disabilities.
DHS officials have said the cuts are designed to save money and provide better mental health care throughout the state. The plan includes transferring services to other facilities, and creating a new 24-hour emergency psychiatric service.
Berglin said her proposal would change the redesign vision, but not end it.
"In some cases we have more time to implement things," Berglin said. "In other cases we're making better use of generating federal funding. And in other cases we're going to be providing a higher services level and more services than they had planned."
The agency defended the cuts in a brief statement released Monday afternoon.
"DHS needs to see entire legislative proposals for human services spending before commenting on any specific proposal," the statement said. "The reality remains that we need to reduce spending in State Operated Services, reform the state-operated mental health system, and do it now."
But mental health advocates say the cuts were proposed without adequate consultation with mental health providers and the clients they serve.
"We don't even know if [the changes] would be helpful," said Sue Abderholden, executive director of the Minnesota branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. "There isn't a lot of detail to the proposals."
Rep. Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, has raised concerns about the timetable for the changes. Thissen plans to introduce an amendment to prevent DHS from making the cuts without legislative approval.
"This is not about saying we shouldn't be focused on redesigning how we deliver services to this vulnerable population, because we absolutely have to do that," Thissen said. "But this redesign is being driven by the money, instead of how we can best and most effectively serve vulnerable Minnesotans."
Berglin said her proposed $8 million allocation would leverage as much as $21 million in federal funds over the next three years.
Tim Pugmire covers politics and state government for MPR News.