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Prairie St. John's bill passes Minnesota House

With bi-partisan support, a proposal to build a 66-unit psychiatric hospital in Woodbury for children and adolescents passed the Minnesota House Wednesday.

On a vote of 125 to 8, the bill authored by Rep. Marsha Swails (DFL-Woodbury) would exempt Prairie St. John's from the current moratorium on new hospitals in Minnesota, potentially paving the way for hospital construction to begin.

"Mental illness is the most common illness afflicting Minnesotans and, if left untreated or under-treated, it can lead to death," Swails said. "But far too often in Minnesota, families face serious difficulty in getting timely and appropriate mental health care for their children. This hospital could help change that for children and adolescents who are often forced to seek treatment far away from home."

According to a report by the Minnesota Department of Health, mental health patients from the seven-county metro area are forced to travel out of town for service more often than any other patients in the state.

According to a press release announcing the House vote, there are no hospital beds specifically dedicated to providing care for mentally ill and chemically-dependent children and adults in Washington County.

On a recent day in the Twin Cities, the nearest psychiatric bed for children was in Duluth, more than 140 miles from Woodbury.

"Minnesota has long been regarded as a leader in affordable and accessible health care, but unfortunately, the story for mental health care, especially for children and adolescents is quite different," Swails added. "While there is no silver bullet to shore up the mental health care system or ensure access to all, building this new hospital would be a crucial component of our ongoing efforts to meet the health care needs of every Minnesotan."

A companion bill is awaiting action in the Senate.