The Potluck

Bill would create mental health ‘urgency rooms’ for people under 25

By: - March 24, 2022 8:01 am

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Many parents know what it’s like to try to get help for a suicidal teenager and end up waiting in an emergency room for hours to see if they’re sick enough for a bed at a treatment facility. 

Often, people are turned away unless they explicitly say they’re a danger to themselves or others. 

In September, one Twin Cities mother took her son to a hospital after he cut and set his clothes on fire, and they were told to sit in a hallway, where they watched other patients with minor ailments come and go for hours. Even though there were empty rooms, hospital workers said they were for “critical care” patients. 

Her son was given a reclining chair in a hallway, and she went to work the next day. She returned to find him in an upright chair, where he’d been all night and the next day, while waiting for workers to find him a bed in an inpatient treatment facility. 

As she struggled to find a place to help her son, moving him to another hospital and eventually watching him wait several days in emergency rooms, she began talking to Sen. Jason Isaacson, DFL-Shoreview, about the system. 

Her story prompted him to introduce a bill (SF 3993) that would establish grants for medical providers and nonprofits to quickly provide mental health care for young people for up to 72 hours. The grants would be used to create mental health “urgency rooms” for people under 25 who are experiencing mental health crises.

Isaacson co-authored the bill, saying waiting so long for help only increases the chance of long-term harm to young people.

The bill would create family-friendly spaces for youth to go instead of hospital emergency rooms. 

“We know kids can’t get care in the hallway, which is why it is critical that we establish a model that works,” he said. “These rooms can be the difference for thousands of youth across the state who are facing these issues, and I hope we can do whatever is necessary to get these in place throughout Minnesota.”

The bill has bipartisan support, with Sen. Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake,  a cosponsor on the bill. 

The bill was heard by the Senate Human Services Reform Finance and Policy Committee on Tuesday and laid over for possible inclusion in the Omnibus Human Services Reform Bill.

A similar program called Urgent Care for Adult Mental Health is open to people over age 18 experiencing mental health crises in Ramsey, Dakota and Washington counties. Olmsted County also has a similar program.

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs. Before joining the staff of the Reformer in 2021 she was a contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. She and her husband have a daughter, son, and very grand child. In her spare time, she likes to play tennis, jog, garden and attempt to check out all the best restaurants in the metro area.