Mental health bill takes important steps forward in addressing state’s crisis

Becca O'Donnell
Jun 07, 2022
Across the country, America’s mental health system is in crisis. Minnesota is no exception. Based on a 2018 to 2019 survey, over 20 percent of Minnesota adults – or 876,000 people – experienced a mental illness and nearly 16 percent – or 70,000 – of youth ages 12 to 17 experienced depression. The behavioral health system is not meeting the needs of those with mental illness and substance use disorders. More than one in five Minnesota adults with behavioral health needs did not receive the care they needed due to lack of both providers and insurance or money to cover co-pays and other costs. These folks also faced unequal treatment of behavioral health needs when compared to primary care, and waiting lists to receive the treatment they needed.  

This year, Minnesota legislators took important steps toward shoring up our state’s mental health system by passing legislation that would allocate $93 million over three years (House File 2725) aimed at increasing the number of providers, supporting mental health crisis services, and reducing racial disparities in mental health services. Major provisions in the package include:  
  • $10.2 million in FY 2025 for Adult Mental Health Initiative grants that foster collaboration between counties and tribal governments to improve services for adults with mental illnesses; 
  • $9.6 million in FY 2024-25 for mobile mental health crisis services that provide intensive support and link folks to services to meet their needs; 
  • $2.9 million in FY 2023 to create secure facilities for people who are not able to stand trial due to mental health reasons; 
  • $2.5 million in FY 2023 and $5.0 million in FY 2024-25 to create a supervision program to support those who want to become mental health professionals; 
  • $4 million in FY 2023 to increase school- and shelter-linked mental health programs that help identify children with mental health needs, improve access for those without insurance, and improve outcomes; 
  • $1.6 million in FY 2023 and $3.2 million in FY 2024-25 for a loan forgiveness program for mental health professionals aimed at increasing the mental health workforce; 
  • $1.2 million in FY 2023 to start a pilot project to create “urgency rooms” to serve as first contact for youth up to age 25 experiencing a mental health crisis; 
  • $1 million in FY 2023 for an African American mental health center with a goal of increasing access to mental health services among Black Minnesotans; 
  • $1 million in FY 2023 to provide mental health services to health care professionals; and 
  • $796,000 in FY 2023 and $2.0 million in FY 2024-25 for person-centered hospital discharge planning for adults and children to help them re-integrate into the community or other least restrictive settings. 
Other provisions include additional funds for the First Episode of Psychosis program, the creation and funding of children’s crisis stabilization beds, and an online music education program. The bill also expands Children's Intensive Behavioral Health Treatment Services, expanding eligibility to include children who live with their legal guardians and who are at risk of being placed in more restrictive settings. Another provision requires Medicaid managed care organizations to pay at least as much as standard Medicaid rates for mental health services, which will increase resources for providers and support the mental health workforce.  

Another provision in the bill will allow the former Bethesda hospital in St. Paul to be converted to a 144-bed psychiatric hospital if certain conditions are met, expanding the available services for mental health care. However, opponents of the plan are concerned that it may exclude Minnesotans without insurance, those with other serious medical conditions, and those experiencing homelessness. Some conditions for the hospital’s funding include that the Commissioner of Health finds that the project is in the public’s best interest and assesses the hospital’s case mix, payer mix, and patient diversions and transfers from other facilities. The hospital is also required to accept patients by walk-ups, ambulances, law enforcement, and transfers from other facilities.  

All Minnesotans deserve to get the health care that meets their needs, and mental health is no exception. The provisions in this bill will ease some of the challenges that communities and families across Minnesota are experiencing. But there is much more work to do. Minnesotans with mental illnesses need more support including stable housing and employment, and greater ability to receive care in their homes and communities. Minnesota must also refrain from using the criminal justice system to punish people in need of mental health services and ensure that those who are incarcerated receive the treatment that they need.