Update mental health systems

by Daily Editorial Board

Minnesota’s mental health care system is failing some of the most vulnerable members of the population, according to the state’s Office of the Legislative Auditor. Over the past two years, 63 percent of inmates with mental health problems remained in custody longer than necessary while they waited for a court order, and there is a constant waitlist for the 1,000 mental health beds in state psychiatric facilities. 
Minnesota has only two highly secured, state-run psychiatric facilities for patients who require a high level of supervision. Despite the constant inflow of patients, the state Department of Human Services struggles to maintain staff to work at these facilities. The state’s seven smaller community behavioral health hospitals, which house fewer violent patients, are at capacity. 
The audit recommends the state should make concerted efforts to develop a streamlined process to screen and care for mentally ill individuals in the criminal justice system. It also suggests developing a “comprehensive set of community-based mental health services.” 
The staff turnover problem at the state’s current facilities demonstrates that merely designating new funds for mental health care won’t solve the state’s problem. State lawmakers should prioritize a system overhaul and work to incorporate new strategies.
A restorative justice approach — one that establishes mental health facilities closely linked to existing communities and support systems — has the potential to decrease staff turnover and provide more effective treatment. Maintaining the status quo will only perpetuate the neglect in our state’s mental health system.