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Olmsted Co. hopes crisis center will fill 'gaping hole' in mental health safety net

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Olmsted County plans to break ground this fall on a mental health crisis center that would serve all of southeastern Minnesota. 

Currently, the region has what Deputy County Administrator Paul Fleissner called "a gaping hole that really isn't a safety net," to help people in need of behavioral health services. Without enough short-term and long-term residential beds for people who need intensive care, Fleissner said individuals in crisis are being held in emergency rooms until a spot opens up, or winding up in jail.

"Currently, our mental health system is our jails and our emergency departments," he told MPR News host Tom Crann. "Quite frankly, for kids and adults, we don't have a lot of options, so they're overwhelming our health care system and our corrections system."

"Right now in our juvenile detention center, about 80 percent of those kids are there for behavioral health reasons, not really criminal reasons," Fleissner said. "And to me, that's a crime in and of itself if we're going to serve kids that way."

The crisis center, which is expected to open next summer on a county-owned parcel of land, would act as a triage center where families, health care providers and law enforcement can take people in crisis. The center would then refer them to the appropriate service or hold them in a crisis respite bed, a kind of short-term residential placement.

"Now we'll have a front door for kids and adults that's welcoming," Fleissner said.

Construction is funded with state bonding money; operations will be covered by the 10 counties in the region, Mayo Clinic, Olmsted Medical Center and patient insurance.

Olmsted County is also applying for state funds to build permanent supportive housing for individuals with mental health needs. 

Fleissner spoke with Tom Crann at the Rochester Art Center. You can hear their conversation above.

This story is part of "Call to Mind," MPR's initiative to foster new conversations around mental health.