State approves $2.86M to help hospitals find care for kids in mental health crisis

Officials say there has been a 30% increase in the number of children arriving at emergency departments with mental health problems.

ST. PAUL, MN – Minnesota hospitals are on the verge of getting help with symptoms of the pandemic that are often overlooked, children with severe mental health problems stuck for days or weeks in emergency departments.

Minnesota’s bipartisan COVID-19 Legislative Response Committee has approved Governor Tim Walz’ request, directing $2.86 million in US Federal Rescue Plan funding to expand access to, and coordination with, residential psychiatric facilities.

According to the Minnesota Department of Human Services (MN DHS), there has been a 30% increase in children arriving at emergency departments with mental health issues.

“Hospitals are telling us they simply don’t have a room,” said Gertrude Matemba Mutasa, assistant commissioner for the Department of Community Support at DHS and DHS. “You have children in numbers they’ve never seen before, and they’re going to the emergency departments. And then hospitals can’t take those kids to other places because those places also have less capacity.”

Matemba Mutasa says she saw that struggle firsthand during a pilot program with M Health Fairview in November. The Department of Homeland Security attempted to help the hospital system place 20 children who no longer needed the hospital’s standard of care, but were not allowed to be discharged.

“The goal was really, we think, to get these kids out of the hospital with DHS help, within a week,” Matemba Mutasa said. “What eventually happened is, within a two-week time frame, we were able to move four kids, which is really frustrating for us. We also noticed that the moment we moved in for one kid, there were two more kids waiting for the same bed.”

Dr. Mark Gorelick is CEO of Children’s Minnesota, Ground Zero of the Crisis.

“Obviously there is more need than is being supplied right now,” Dr. Gorelick said. “Just to make it clear from a human perspective, we’re seeing about 1,000 kids this year — three kids every day — that’s kids as young as five or six, coming into our emergency department in need of a really intense mental health treatment.”

I was volunteering in the emergency department that day – helping because we have some understaffing – and I saw these kids waiting… They’ve come to the right place, we know what they need, but they are waiting for us to find these resources for them. It is a very stressful situation for a child and a family. “

To address this, part of the $2.86 million will go toward creating two new DHS jobs, which are intended to help hospitals find residential psychiatric facilities to house children. But most of the money – $2.5 million – will go to the facilities themselves.

“Residential treatment facilities will use it to pay retention bonuses, they will be able to pay higher salaries, and they will really be able to use some of that money to build up their staff because of the shortage,” Matemba-Mutasa said.

And since that will likely take time, Children’s Minnesota also plans to add its own 22-bed mental health unit next year.

“Our black youth, our Native parents, and our LGBT youth are two to three times more likely to develop a mental health crisis or commit suicide,” said Dr. Gorelick. “We also have a few facilities to serve these young children that we are starting to see more and more of.

“This could be one of the legacies of the COVID pandemic that I think we’ll be dealing with for a long time. I’m glad we’re getting started and happy to see others moving forward as well.”

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