5 Minnesota Mental Health Clinics Shut Down After Budget Cuts, Leaving Thousands Without Care

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Riverwood Centers, a large local Minnesota mental health agency that provides care to more than 3,000 residents across five counties, has shut down five of its clinics in the wake of county budget cuts, the Star Tribune reports.

“I don’t have the words to describe how I feel,” said 64-year-old Riverwood patient Bruce Echelberry, who is manic depressive. “Astounded? Angry? They decided that money was bigger than our mental health.” Other patients lamented the fact that the community clinics were the very resource that kept them from committing suicide in their darkest hours.

According to the Star Tribune, a legislative report from February found that psychiatric services in Minnesota are failing local residents. That’s because a combination of cuts to state psychiatric facilities and concurrent cuts to community mental health clinics are leaving the patients struggling with serious mental illnesses with few resources for treatment. Instead, many are cycling in and out of county jails or winding up in expensive emergency rooms that aren’t the ideal environments for treating mental illness.

A study by the Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC) finds that Minnesota has shut down some of the most state psychiatric beds of any state in the nation, purging more than half of its mental health beds between 2005 and 2010. There is a significant rift between mental health advocates who believe that local, community-based care for patients with mental illness is a more appropriate delivery system for treatment than large, state inpatient facilities.

But as Riverwood’s shuttering shows, states that are ostensibly trying to move away from a state psychiatric system to a local care system don’t always provide the appropriate funding to make such a transition feasible. Illinois, where Chicago’s Cook County Jail has become the largest de facto mental health provider in the nation, has faced similar problems.

Patients and their families face massive hurdles when both state and local mental health facilities are shut down. Many patients’ ongoing care is disrupted; others find themselves having to travel hundreds of miles just to pursue care.

“The big fear is that people will just pull into themselves and not seek help,” said Mary Fehring, a Minnesota mental health advisory county member and advocate. “It’s hard enough for these people to reach out and get help, and now we’ve just created another barrier. It’s scary.”

Minnesota officials are telling people with psychiatric emergencies to contact a regional mental health agency if they have thoughts of suicide or other serious problems while the state figures out an alternative resource for these patients.