Kandiyohi County provides a safety net for those in need of mental health treatment

Kandiyohi County provides a safety net for those in need of mental health treatment

WILLMAR — As the county’s mental health authority, Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services provides needed programs and treatment to residents in need.

“There is a list of required services that the county must provide,” said Corinne Torkelson, supervisor of adult mental health.

These services cover both adult and child mental health, and the county is seeing growth in both. So much so that the department decided to split adult and children’s mental health into two units.

“We are making a transition,” said Jennie Lippert, director of health and human services.

Jennifer Lippert

Contributed / Kandiyohi County

While there wasn’t enough time at the Oct. 18 Kandiyohi County Council meeting to discuss all that health and human services are dealing with in mental health, Torkelson and Lippert noted some of the greatest challenges.

“We’re seeing growth … in terms of challenges and different areas that we’re seeing needs locally,” Lippert said.

In adult mental health, Kandiyohi County ended 2021 with 87 open cases. That number has risen to 97 cases so far this year.

“It’s not a huge leap, but it’s a leap,” Torkelson said.

However, when you are understaffed, any jump in the number of cases can be a problem. The department has lost a staff member in its mental health division and is struggling to fill it. This means that the remaining workers are even more stressed.

“More work, less staff creates certain limitations in what our staff are able to do,” Torkelson said.

Commitments is another area of ​​adult mental health that has seen an increase in cases. As part of its mandated services, the county must conduct pre-petition screenings for any cases in which a person is involuntarily engaged for mental health reasons.

The process begins with a social worker receiving one or more supporting statements, usually from a medical professional, supporting a client’s commitment because the person is considered a danger to them- himself and/or for others.

The social worker will speak with the client and others to understand the current situation and determine if the danger reaches the engagement level.

If the county believes there is a case, it will forward it to the county attorney who will then decide whether to file a recognizance application. It is then forwarded to a judge.

Corinne Torkelson, Family Services Supervisor

Corinne Torkelson

Contributed / Kandiyohi County

“The court has the final decision whether someone is committed or not,” Torkelson said.

Typically, Kandiyohi County processes about 40-45 screenings per year. Last year there was a big leap.

“2021 was a really good year for us; we had 62 screenings that we did on engagements,” Torkelson said.

Of those 62 screenings, 44% were disposed of, meaning they were not forwarded to the county attorney. This may be because the case has not reached the legal level of commitment or because the person has voluntarily agreed to undergo treatment.

This year, the county has already held 43 pre-petition hearings and only nine of them have been eliminated. The reasons for the higher number are not specifically known, although the coronavirus pandemic may still play a role.

On the children’s mental health side, county staff are seeing concerning growth, particularly this fall. From September 1 to October 16, there were 15 new cases, compared to six in the same period last year. And these are not simple cases, but cases with children struggling with major problems.

“We look younger than ever,” Torkelson said. “We are also seeing children who are much more confronted with their mental health needs than we have ever seen before.”

Part of these complicated cases is trying to find a place for the child in a specialized treatment center if necessary. This can be extremely difficult these days with fewer and fewer places available and growing needs. Sometimes it can take months to find a free place.

There are similar problems on the adult side as well.

“There are frequent, frequent phone calls that have been made trying to find suitable placements,” Torkelson said.

Lack of beds can also be costly for the county, especially when a customer no longer meets the requirements of a certain facility and prices rise. For an adult who stays in a state-run program but no longer needs that level of care, it can cost the county $1,700 to $2,500 a day. Usually the solution would be to move the person to the next level of care, but often the county cannot find space.

“Definitely a budget crunch,” Torkelson said.

The belief of county and county council staff is that mental health will continue to be a need and a challenge. Most likely, new ways of delivering these services will need to be established.

“There’s a lack of resources, and I think the counties are going to have to start looking at how we’re doing it,” Commissioner Corky Berg said.

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