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Minnesota hospital problems are unrelenting

Problems at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter seem unrelenting.

In 2011 the Human Services Commissioner gave the hospital two years to reduce the unnecessary use of patient restraints.

In 2013 investigators found two new cases of patient maltreatment, including one in which staff failed to intervene when a patient banged his head against a concrete wall for more than three hours. The hospital was fined and had its license placed on “conditional status” — a status that remains in place.

Last week, investigators determined that a security guard bears some responsibility for the January killing of a patient, allegedly by another patient.

Those incidents don’t cover scandals involving the quality of care given by psychiatrists, whether patients are kept in high security programs too long and myriad other managerial and staff problems in recent years.

To be fair, operating Minnesota’s largest psychiatric facility, with 400 of the state’s most dangerous patients, is a daunting task.

Human Services Commissioner Lu-cinda Jesson and lawmakers have repeatedly voiced serious concerns about the hospital.

Some of the safety problems, for both patients and staff, are the result of an outdated building with poor sight lines. Those problems will have a remedy now that the Legislature and governor approved more than $56 million in funding for security hospital renovation and construction.

While the work is very much needed, no one should believe the bulk of the problems at the hospital are the result of building design.

State officials, lawmakers, hospital management and union leadership must redouble efforts to improve the philosophical and clinical approaches used at the hospital, improve training for staff and identify and correct other problems with the aim of protecting and serving staff and patients.

The patients at the hospital are often dangerous and unpredictable. But we all have to remember that they are mentally ill patients who deserve the best care and protections the state can provide them.

That is not what they have received in recent years. — Mankato Free Press