Our View: Mental health is a community issue

While discussing the lack of local hospital beds for mentally ill patients, Dr. Ronna Campbell noted community services after inpatient treatment are just as important. "It's not only a front-door problem," the Mayo Clinic emergency room doctor said during a recent forum on mental health issues.

The forum hosted by Rochester's First Presbyterian Church started with a discussion of options for people needing emergency inpatient mental health care, but it quickly shifted to cover a variety of other needs, specifically those intended to help patients when they leave inpatient care.

Those "back-door needs" include stabilized housing, access to regular treatment and a system that can provide crisis care quickly.

Campbell said the lack of community support often delays the release of patients, which can add to the stress caused by the fact that Minnesota ranks 50th in the nation for the number of public psychiatric beds per capita. It adds pressure to an already stressed system as patients wait in local emergency rooms. "We're not seeing more patients," she said. "We're just seeing them for a longer period of time."

That's why we're glad to see an increased focus on community-based mental health services, from efforts to help people find supportive housing options to plans for more regional crisis teams. These services will help reduce stress created when the state opted to reduce funding for inpatient care at Community Behavioral Health Hospitals.


Olmsted County is working to actively tackle the issue on two fronts, according to Jim Behrends, director of the county's adult and family services. The first is through working to establish around-the-clock mobile crisis teams for the region. Secondly, it is laying groundwork for more permanent supportive housing options.

Both efforts have proven effective at addressing mental health needs within communities by tackling symptoms before an illness requires hospitalization. "You can deal with those symptoms earlier," Behrends said. "It's like any other disease."

Additionally, community-based efforts should reduce stress on law enforcement and jails, which too frequently become a replacement for hospitalization when those who are mentally ill fall though the cracks.

The increased focus on community-based services stems from legislative and Minnesota Department of Human Services support, which has grown. While we hope that support continues to grow, we also see promise on the federal front.

Sen. Al Franken has been working on mental health issues related to crisis intervention and schools, which we applaud as efforts to handle concerns before they grow. Additionally, the Minnesota Democrat has signed on to efforts spearheaded by Rep. Tim Murphy, a Pennsylvania Republican.

Murphy, a clinical psychologist, says he wants to pass legislation to deliver more resources for mental health treatment, clear red tape for families and institute a mental health office in the Department of Health and Human Services while freeing up federal dollars for research and assistance. While the effort has bipartisan support, it also faces critics who claim it hinders patient privacy and shifts funding from substance abuse treatment.

While nothing is certain as discussions continue in Washington, we're glad the conversations continue.

It's those types of conversations that helped stir support for $43 million statewide funding earlier this year, which promises to have a positive impact on local services, and it's those discussions that must be held on all levels to ensure progress continues.


While we are glad the state and federal efforts continue, we also note the words of Jennifer McNertney, a policy analyst for the Minnesota Hospital Association, during the First Presbyterian Church forum: "This is a community issue."

As our community continues to address the local needs, we acknowledge that more awareness and understanding is needed. With that in mind, we encourage continued support and discussions on all levels.

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