Minnesota to spend $93M on mental health

The mother on the other end of the line was desperate.

Her daughter, who had been sexually exploited and had suicidal thoughts, was in a hospital emergency room with 10 other kids. There were no open programs for the child, and her mother feared she couldn’t keep her safe at home.

“It was just so heartbreaking to hear from her,” said Connie Ross, residential services administrator for North Homes Children and Family Services, a greater Minnesota mental health service provider. “But those are the kind of calls we get all day long. So we really, really need to be funding these programs.”

Individuals, parents and mental health providers spent months sharing similar stories with state leaders, hoping the a record budget surplus and increased demand for mental health services during the pandemic would prompt action. On the final night of the legislative session, as negotiations on other issues were at a standstill, legislators and advocates scrambled to pull together an 11th-hour package of items around mental health that everyone could agree on.

Concerns about the well-being of children and students after two years of the pandemic helped push $92.7 million in new mental health funding through the finish line. Gov. Tim Walz signed the bill into law last week.

“Especially around students, there was such great concern about their mental health that we had to do something,” said Sue Abderholden, executive director of the mental health advocacy organization NAMI Minnesota. “A lot of it has to do with children’s mental health.”

The legislation includes new funding that will flow to school and shelter-linked mental health for children and youth, while creating crisis mental health beds for children. The state currently only has crisis stabilization beds for adults.

Stevie Borne was on a plane waiting to return home from a business trip when she saw a list of the funding passed by legislators. The Eagan mother was so excited that for a minute she struggled to breathe. Time and again, her family has been caught “between a rock and a hard place,” Borne said, weighing whether to take her child, who has suffered from depression and anxiety, to the emergency room or stay home.

“Having crisis stabilization beds I think is going to be huge,” she said, adding, “A lot of parents I talk to have similar experiences.”

The package spends nearly $10 million to help quicken response times for mobile crisis mental health services that cover all 87 counties. Legislators also tried to address the severe workforce shortage in the mental health care industry by funding loan forgiveness for mental health professionals and helping cover the supervision needed for anyone entering the field. Finding supervision has been a major barrier for people trying to complete their licensure requirements.

“If we don’t have professionals to work in whatever type of facilities we dream up, it doesn’t do us any good,” said Sen. Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake, one of the bill sponsors. “The frustration has been building, and the whole goal of this bill was to get more access, more professionals.”

As part of the deal, legislators also agreed to spend $32 million over three years to try to address the state’s struggle with individuals who are found incompetent to stand trial. Currently, those individuals are sent back into the world without a safety net, sometimes committing crimes and finding themselves back in the system.

The deal creates a new board that will oversee more than 120 navigators across the state who will help those found incompetent to stand trial to find housing, treatment and other services they might need.

“We are finally coming to a point where people understand that we can’t give up, every life is important and we have to work with them and try to give them a chance,” said Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, who has been working on the competency restoration issue for three years.

For Minneapolis resident and mental health advocate Sarah Washington, the $2 million for school-linked behavioral health grants is particularly critical, as well as the $1 million allocated to a community mental health center specializing in services for African American families. There’s a lot of trauma in the community and parents are overwhelmed, Washington said, and the money for that center is important.

“But they are going to have to give that agency support, training,” she stressed. “I want it to be sustainable … $1 million dollars is going to go fast.”

Trevor Johnson, senior director of behavioral health services at Lutheran Social Service, echoed Washington’s concern about sustained funding. He said he is “cautiously optimistic” about the $2 million devoted to shelter-linked mental health services. The state designated $500,000 for that purpose a couple of years ago and a handful of agencies got those dollars, he said, but the need surpasses that sum.

“It’s a really great start,” Johnson said of the legislative package. “These are still Band-Aids. Even within these areas, more funding could be used tomorrow and next year and the year after.”

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