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State transitions in how it provides care for mental health patients

WILLMAR -- Last week the last client was discharged from the adult mental health treatment facility on the campus of the former Willmar Regional Treatment Center, ending a nearly 100 year history in this community.

On Friday, an open house will be held for a new 16-bed psychiatric hospital in Willmar with clients expected to start arriving Aug. 18.

The transition from large regional treatment facilities to small community-based hospitals is the new trend in treating people with acute or chronic mental illness in Minnesota.

The Community Behavioral Health Hospital in Willmar is one of 10 such facilities in the state.

They are a "tool" that's to be used in conjunction with a host of other community-based care networks, like Rice Hospital, Woodland Centers, group home facilities known as intensive residential treatment services and home-based care provided by assertive community treatment teams, said Kevin Bollin, director of the 16-bed hospital.

The goal is to treat adults with mental illness at facilities or through programs that are close to home said Bollin.

The new inpatient hospital in Willmar will primarily serve people in 18 southwest Minnesota counties for stays that average 10-21 days.

It will be servings our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and neighbors who suffer from mental illness, said Bollin. "And there are a lot that do."

Because Willmar isn't centrally located geographically in the 18 counties, Bollin said building the hospital in Willmar was "a bit controversial." Willmar was selected, in part, because there's a larger population base here that need services.

Hans Dahl, of Willmar, has been a member of the Governing Board of the State Operated Services since 2000 and was involved with the decision to close the state's regional treatment centers and open the 10 community behavioral health hospitals.

The plan to close the regional treatment centers was accepted by the legislature in 2003, he said.

The former Rice Memorial Hospital administrator, whose term on the governing board ends this fall, is critical of the decision-making process and the end result.

Although he voted in favor of closing the treatment centers in Brainerd, Fergus Falls and Ah-Gwah-Ching , he said he voted against closing the Willmar Regional Treatment Center.

The new 16-bed hospitals are good, he said, but he worries that there's a gap in care for those people with acute chronic mental illness who may never be able to live outside of an institution.

"What are we going to do with them?" Dahl asked during an interview.

Dahl said the community behavioral health hospitals, which are geared for stays of about 30 days, are not the final solution and believes Minnesota will eventually return to larger campus-style treatment centers in the future.

Bollin said there are gaps in services for mentally ill individuals who are also violent or have criminal histories, as well as for elderly individuals with chronic mental illness. The 16-bed hospitals are not designed for those clients, he said.

A hospital in Anoka is the only facility for more difficult clients and there's currently a waiting list, said Bollin, adding that a shortage of psychiatrists in Minnesota may also present gaps in services in smaller communities.

While he enjoys serving on the governing board, Dahl said members didn't have the kind of input he felt they should've. He questions whether the original 15-member commission was established to carry out plans the state had all along.

"I feel we accomplished what they wanted us to accomplish," said Dahl.

He's also concerned the board has gradually shrunk to just a handful because the state did find replacements when members retired and if the board will cease to exist in the future.