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‘A good start’: MN Legislature funds mental health, OKs St. Paul Bethesda Hospital plan
Saint Paul Pioneer Press - 5/27/2022
A compromise mental health funding bill approved by lawmakers with minutes remaining at the end of the legislative session will permit a new mental health hospital in St. Paul along with $93 million to address an ongoing crisis.
Fairview Health Services needs lawmakers’ OK to replace Bethesda Hospital, just blocks north of the Capitol, with a new 144-bed mental health facility. A provision allowing the project to move forward as well as money for other mental health programs was tacked onto a related bill when it became clear lawmakers would not finish their work on time.
Gov. Tim Walz has signaled he will sign the bill, but he hadn’t as of Thursday. Walz has two weeks to sign the legislation passed at the end of session; if he doesn’t it won’t become law and is considered a pocket veto.
In response to questions about the bill, Fairview, in a written statement, praised lawmakers and advocates who helped to push the bill over the finish line.
“There is an urgent and persistent need to improve mental health care in our region,” Fairview’s statement said. “We are currently in the public interest review process and look forward to sharing continued updates on our progress and bringing this important care online for our patients and community.”
The legislative approval includes further oversight of the proposed facility to address concerns raised by mental health advocates that it would not be accessible to those in the community with the most needs — the homeless, the poor and those with other serious underlying health conditions.
Advocates have said they would prefer additional mental health beds at full-fledged hospitals that have emergency rooms and intensive care units.
Fairview leaders have said the facility would continue the organization’s mission of charity care and be open to everyone. They acknowledged that patients with critical health needs might need to be cared for at hospitals with critical care facilities.
Under the bill approved by lawmakers, the state health commissioner must monitor the hospital and assess its mix of patients. The hospital also must have an intake area and accept patients who walk up to the facility, are transferred from other hospitals or who are brought there by ambulances or police.
“I think they tried to address the concerns people had without saying no,” said Sue Abderholden, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Minnesota. “There’s a lot of data that they have to keep.”
WHAT ELSE IS IN THE BILL?
The last-minute mental health funding bill lawmakers passed near midnight on May 22 was added on to legislation that updates how courts will determine whether a defendant is competent to stand trial and how competency can be restored.
The mental health funding piece includes about $93 million in new money for various programs. Much of it had been part of negotiations between the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party-led House and Republican-controlled Senate for other funding bills that were not finished by the May 22 deadline.
The bill includes:
Abderholden said mental health advocates worked with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to include as many “top priorities” as they could in the funding bill. Another health and human services policy bill, which included no new spending, also had some important policy provisions.
Still, a lot was left out of the last-minute compromise, and advocates hold out hope lawmakers will agree to a special session to finish their work.
“You can’ get everything that you want,” Abderholden said. “Does this solve everything? No. Does it fully address the crisis? No. But it is a good start.”
WHAT GOT LEFT OUT
One of the biggest pieces of the proposed supplemental budget that didn’t get finished was $1 billion in new education spending. It was part of $4 billion in new spending and $4 billion in tax cuts that lawmakers agreed upon in principal, but couldn’t come to terms on the finer points.
One sticking point was mental health funding for schools to help students and teachers address the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Students and educators are reeling from mental health crises,” Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota, the state teachers union, said in a statement urging lawmakers to come back to the Capitol to finish their work.
Abderholden echoed the need for more aid for schools.
“This does not replace the education bill, at all,” she said of the last-minute compromise. “The education bill had a lot of really good things in it. There’s certainly a lot more that we would like to see.”
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