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Mental health 'stabilization unit' to open

There will soon be a local option for people in mental health crisis other than hospitalization or being sent home.

A two-bed crisis stabilization unit will open in Detroit Lakes by early November.

The unlocked apartment-type facility will be staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week and will be available on a voluntary basis for patients who meet the criteria for admission.

The idea is to create a supportive environment for people in crisis who need help, but don’t need full hospitalization.

Average stay is expected to be 4-8 days.

“The reason we’re doing this is because Becker County has a lot of needs for mental health services — and the closer to home we can do the services, the more effective we are,” said Don Janes, a Becker County Human Services supervisor who specializes in mental health and chemical dependency issues.

Those in crisis often are already working with local mental health providers, and they tend to do better when they can keep that relationship going.

“Keeping people engaged with their current providers is probably one of the most important things you can do for their mental health,” said Amber Nelson, a social worker and coordinator for crisis teams in the county.

That being said, there are services that the inpatient psychiatric hospitals can provide that won’t be available locally, and those who need that level of care will continue to get it, Nelson said.

But the crisis stabilization unit will provide an option for those in crisis who shouldn’t be left at home, but don’t need hospitalization either. And it will be a safe place for those returning to the community from a hospital.

“We can be a step-down option,” Nelson said.

Family, friends, work, school, church and a familiar community in general can all be “a really good resource for that person,” she added. “We have pretty good community-based services here, like Lakeland Mental Health,  and they can stay in a supportive environment and continue those outpatient services.”

If necessary, the stabilization unit — which will be located in a small apartment house near Lincoln Education Center — can be expanded or combined with other residential services. The facility has room for up to 6 beds.

A crisis stabilization unit in Fergus Falls run by a private firm, Productive Alternatives, started small with two beds about five years ago and has since expanded to four beds, Nelson said.

Janes expects 30 to 50 people to take advantage of the Detroit Lakes facility over the course of a year. “We’re going to be busy,” he predicted.

Last year, 37 Becker County residents were admitted to community  behavioral health hospitals — small state-run facilities that replaced larger state hospitals a few years ago.

Because beds were not available at the state facilities, another 75 Becker County residents were admitted to psychiatric hospitals, usually Prairie St. John’s or Sanford Health in Fargo.

Patients will be carefully screened to make sure they’re a good fit for the stabilization unit.

“It’s not (for) people who are a threat to others,” Janes said.

“The majority are already living in this community,” Nelson added. “It’s just a place to get some support.”

A 4-to-8-day stay may not seem very long, Nelson said,  “but if they’re not getting enough sleep, not eating properly, not taking their medications properly, you can see big changes in a few days.”

The main coverage area will be Becker County and the White Earth Reservation, but the unit will also be open to residents in Clay, Otter Tail and Wilkin counties.

The facility is not a detox center and not a homeless shelter.

“The experience with these things is that they do not become a second home for people,” said Nelson. “The main question (we always ask) is ‘what do we need to do to get you back home?’” she said.

The facility is expected to take some pressure off the hospital emergency department, because the county’s crisis intervention team can do face-to-face at-home assessments and recommend the stabilization unit (always on a voluntary basis) without the patient ever taking a trip to the ER.

The crisis response team can also see patients while they are waiting at the ER, and can recommend the stabilization unit if it is appropriate.

Letters of support for the project came from more than 20 health care providers, businesses and professionals.

“It’s not something that Becker County is  doing all by ourselves,” said Janes. The state, the tribe, Lakes Crisis Center,  Stellher Human Services, Solution Behavioral Health, Lakeland Mental Health and the adult mobile crisis teams are all involved.

“Our role as Becker County is to bring the pieces together and make that happen,” he said. Having multiple agencies involved also helps with checks and balances, he added. “In a sense, we’re holding each other accountable.”

The program will cost about $230,000 a year, including a $206,000 one-year contract with Stellher Human Services, which will hire staff and operate the facility.

About $25,000 in funding will come from BCOW, which serves  Becker, Clay, Otter Tail and Wilkin counties.

Another $50,000 will come from the Medica Foundation.

State and federal funds will make up the rest of the $167,000 in direct government funding.

Patent revenue is estimated at $81,000 and savings at $30,000 to put the budget $50,000 in the black.

The program is expected to be self-supporting within two years.

The stabilization unit has been several years in the making, and Human Services launched the effort at the behest of the Becker County Board, in part as a way to save money.

The program was approved at a recent county board meeting, with all commissioners supporting it except Ben Grimsley, who heatedly opposed it both for personal reasons and because it fell outside the regular budgeting process.

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