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House committee OK's mental health facility

A state House committee voted Friday to support an inpatient mental health facility proposed to be built in Woodbury, despite a report released by the Minnesota Department of Health earlier in the day that stated the facility would not in the public's best interest.

Prairie St. John's is seeking legislative approval to build a 144-bed psychiatric facility in Woodbury's medical campus district, but the MDH report released Friday stated several reasons for its decision not to support the facility. One of those reasons stated the proposed facility would add nearly four times more inpatients beds than currently needed for mental health facilities in the Twin Cities.

Officials from the Fargo-based Prairie St. John's fired back at those findings and said the report analysis runs counter to the reality of the situation.

"We were frankly dumbfounded by this conclusion," stated Dr. Stephen Setterberg, co-chairman for Prairie St. John's, in a press release responding to the MDH report. "It runs counter to all national benchmarks and the opinion of the Minnesota medical communities."

But not long after the MDH report was published, the mental health committee in the House voted to support the proposed $22 million facility, which had Setterberg changing his tune about the situation quickly.

"We appreciate the support of legislators who understand that the status quo in mental health isn't working," Stephen Setterberg said after hearing news that House legislators weren't swayed by the MDH report. "Today's vote is good news for patients in need of hospital admission to treat their mental illness. More help is on the way."

Contentious issue

The proposed facility has been a contentious issue in the mental health care community since it was proposed last year. In January the MDH held a public meeting in Woodbury on the issue whether the facility was needed in the Twin Cities and how it would affect other hospitals already providing mental health care. At the meeting, opinions were divided over whether a new freestanding, for-profit mental health facility is needed in the region. Prairie St. John's has such a facility in Fargo, and officials said many of its patients are transported from the Twin Cities.

Minnesota currently has a moratorium on new hospitals, and Prairie St. John's needs an exemption from the state Legislature to build the facility.

Area legislators Sen. Kathy Saltzman and Rep. Marsha Swails have authored bills in the House and Senate that would give Prairie St. John's the exemption it needs to build its inpatient facility in Woodbury.

MDH officials presented the their recently-released findings on the proposed facility Friday to a state House committee, and were scheduled to present the same report to a Senate committee in early March, said Sen. Kathy Saltzman, DFL-Woodbury.

The MDH report is meant as an independent advisory for Legislature, but will not necessarily determine whether the proposed facility will get an exemption, said MDH spokeswoman Julie Sonier.

Saltzman is the chief author of the bill in the Senate to give the proposed Prairie St. John's facility an exemption. She said the Senate will discuss the issue over the next two weeks before voting on the bill, but added that she would like to see more information that wasn't included in the report.

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