Otter Tail County needs to change the way it deals with those with mental illness, advocates said during the Sept. 14 Otter Tail County Commission meeting.

A report from the Otter Tail County Adult Mental Health Local Advisory Committee said those with mental illness are having trouble getting emergency rides to the ER, getting their medications while in jail, and even keeping ther homes. Meanwhile, advocates say they continue to work for a special emergency department in the county for those suffering from mental health needs.

"The ER needs to be dealing with car accidents and COVID," said committee member Beth Rader. "They're not set up to deal with mental health."

Among their recommendations:

  • Restore a community paramedic program, which helped assess the needs of those having a mental health crisis, to divert them from emergency rooms.
  • Allow jail inmates to continue their medication and therapy by coordinating with community providers. They said they supported efforts to create a position of jail social worker/case manager.
  • Support transitional housing to reduce homelessness. They noted that Otter Tail County Human Services and Fergus Falls HRA received funding for permanent supportive housing.
  • Investigate the need for a dedicated mental health emergency department within emergency rooms. This effort goes back to 2019, when the committee first broached the idea to commissioners, and conversations continue to take place.

  • Actively recruit and retain psychiatric providers. New providers have started at Lake Region Health Care, but more are needed.

  • Team up with local schools to encourage students to go into the mental health field.

  • Provide transportation options for county residents with mental health challenges.

  • Work with mental health providers and law enforcement, as protected rides to hospitals have become increasingly difficult to come by..

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"These are very gifted people," Rader said. "They are resources in our community. If we neglect this, it's just going to be more of a drain on our resources instead of beefing up our resources."

Other board action:

  • A proposed rewrite of the county's renewable energy ordinance would include solar energy systems. Originally aimed solely at wind energy, the new ordinance clarifies that it will regulate wind energy conversion systems of up to 25 megawatts, which could power about 16,000 homes, large and small solar energy systems, and waste-to-energy facilities. A public hearing on the proposed changes is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 1.
  • The county has hired a new deputy county administrator, Lynne Penke Valdes, who started work on Sept. 13. Valdes said she grew up in Grant County and she and her husband have a cabin in Otter Tail County. She was most recently the strategy manager for Hennepin County. “People here are wonderful and I am excited to serve the residents of Otter Tail County,” she told commissioners. She will be working in Otter Tail County while her office: A transition: splitting time between OTC and Twin Cities until they have successfully transitioned everything. She is no longer run.
  • Pleasant Lake RV Village north of Underwood in Sverdrup Township will be able to add 22 sites and a permanent home despite the objections of two Planning Commission members and one county commissioner. After hearing public opposition to the project, the Board of Commissioners sent the project back to the Planning Commission to look further into compatibility and safety issues. The location already has 27 full RV hook-up sites, a cabin and a fish cleaning building. The Planning Commission restricted the village to 42 boat slips and confirmed it again. Commissioner Dan Bucholz voted against the expansion, and Commissioner Betty Murphy abstained. Commissioners Lee Rogness, Wayne Johnson and Mortenson voted for it.

  • A proposed subdivision on Crystal Lake in Lida Township near Pelican Rapids is being held up over an access road. A nearby road to a different subdivision was never built to township standards, and the township will not maintain it, and does not want it to be used for the new subdivision. The developer of the old subdivision won't improve the road. The other option is to turn a nearby driveway into an access road, but to do that, it would have to go through wetlands. Commissioners approved the plan, but it also needs state approval.