The mental health needs of youth have been rising significantly in the country, with 13 percent of adolescents reported having a major depressive episode in 2019, a 60 percent increase from 2007.
Around the nation, youth who are experiencing mental health crises are often put in emergency rooms and must wait several days before receiving care at a treatment program, the New York Times recently reported. Republicans and Democrats in the Minnesota Senate have recognized a need for more mental health support and resources in the state. A proposed bill, Senate File 3249, seeks to address some of those mental health needs with one aspect aimed at reducing the wait times for receiving care.
Part of the bill, sponsored by Sen. Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake, would establish grants to create mental health “urgency rooms” for people under 25 who are experiencing mental health crises. Draheim says he’s been passionate about mental health for a long time. His father was a counselor, and recently, one of his nieces died by suicide.
Suicide rates, which were stable from 2000 to 2007, rose nearly 60 percent by 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I think every family has been affected by mental health,” Draheim said. “I think every family has members that have struggled with mental health at one point in their lives.”
Draheim’s bill is a mental health package that includes other smaller bills, including funding for mental health grants for schools, Shelter Link mental health grants, crisis stabilization and urgency rooms.
The funding to create urgency rooms was first brought to Draheim by Sen. Jason Isaacson, DFL-Shoreview.
“It all stemmed from a constituent of (Isaacson’s) whose kid had to wait literally in an emergency room for like two days. And that’s unacceptable when someone’s in a mental health crisis to have young people or anybody, in my opinion, to wait literally days to get in to see someone to help them,” Draheim said.
The grant program would allow applicants, including medical providers, hospitals, emergency rooms or nonprofits involved in mental health services to create urgency rooms for individuals under 25 years of age who are experiencing mental health crises.
Medical institutions that receive the grants must be able to accommodate a patient’s stay for up to 72 hours, conduct a substance use screening, mental health crisis assessment, provide peer support services, crisis stabilization services and crisis psychiatry and access to case management and planning.
Access to mental health care professionals and to physical beds are some challenges facing those in need. The bill, as it is right now, requires the institutions to accept patients regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay.
“We need more funding, obviously, but we need more access. But to have more access, we need more professionals. We don’t have enough professionals out there to meet the needs, he said. They’re kind of all intertwined. So if we want more facilities, we need more professionals. If we want more professionals, we’re going to probably have to pay more,” said Draheim.
Some want more
During a Finance Committee meeting in April, Draheim presented the bill for the 10 committee members to vote on. Some members, like Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, said it needs to do more. Kent teared up during the meeting as she expressed the needs of Minnesotans for these added services, especially coming out of the pandemic.
“At a time where we have a significant surplus and a historic crisis on our hands … while these are good programs and I support these programs, they just don’t meet the moment or the challenges that our kids are facing,” Kent said during the meeting.
She brought forward amendments to the bill, including one that sought to add around 1,100 mental health professionals in schools, in addition to increasing statewide mental health screenings and self-assessments, infant and early childhood mental health services and early childhood social workers.
That proposed amendment, which would cost around $124.5 million over three years, did not pass. Several other amendments brought forward by Kent and Sen. John Marty, DFL–Roseville, did not pass either.
“I do think that we do need to do more,” Draheim said in response to Kent’s amendment. “We are moving in that direction with this bill. Do I wish we could do more? Of course, I do. But if this is adopted onto the bill, it kills the bill.”
The bill passed 7-1 to be moved to the Senate floor.
What happens next?
Draheim anticipates the bill will be on the Senate floor Thursday. While he hopes the house will pass it, the bill may get lumped into the bigger Health and Human Services (HHS) omnibus bill.
“I’m trying to rally the other side of the aisle, that this is something that we can come together on and get done that will help people when we put politics aside and try to do the right thing,” Draheim said.
He is unsure of how the house will vote on it and worries that the contents of the bill will get diluted if it isn’t a standalone bill.
“I think it deserves to be a standalone and be treated separately,” Draheim said. “Hopefully, we can get it through and get some things started, and then we can expand on them in future sessions. It’s very bipartisan. There are a lot of things that the governor likes in it. I’m trying to rally the other side of the aisle, that this is something that we can come together on and get done that will help people when we put politics aside and try to do the right thing.”