County bracing for hefty mental health bill after shift

Published 10:16 am Thursday, June 30, 2016

A 2015 shift has cost Mower County Health and Human Services an additional $135,000 for a single mental health placement since January.

Health and Human Services officials updated the county board earlier this week on the issue, as the office needs to adjust its budget for the unexpected expense.

“That $135,000 for one person out of the blue is costing you almost two-thirds of a percent property tax increase,” County Coordinator Craig Oscarson said.

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The state changed a formula for paying for mental health placements at regional treatment centers in places like Anoka and St. Peter.

The county pays nothing for the first 30 days and 20 percent for the time over 31 days if the placement is deemed clinically appropriate. However, the county now pays 100 percent for each day a client spends after he or she is deemed appropriate to be discharged, according to Health and Human Services Director Lisa Kocer.

However, that discharge doesn’t always mean an individual can go home. Kocer said people are discharged from the Anoka or St. Peter facilities once the placement isn’t deemed medically necessary, but that often just means finding another placement. But lining up another facility often proves hard to line up and secure.

“It’s difficult to find placement for folks,” Kocer said.

The person in question went in for care in December. The county started paying 20 percent in January, and then March 24, the facility deemed the person ready to be discharged to another facility. However, county staff say the man still needs treatments, which it’s just lining up now.

Since January, the county has paid about $190,000 for the placements. Before the shift, the county would have paid about $55,000 for such a placement, so the increase made for an additional $135,000 the county has to fund.

“We are have to pay quite a large sum of money for this person’s care,” Kocer told the board.

Commissioners and county staff noted a few similar cases, which aren’t frequent, could be budget busters in Mower County, while a single case could really affect budgets in smaller counties.

The county is seeking a waiver to cover future costs once the person is placed at a long-term facility.

Right now, Kocer said securing placements often proves difficult, especially for people with higher needs as the state is seeing a shortage of facilities to take such individuals.

“I feel like it’s at a breaking point I really do.” Kocer said. “People have needs. Those needs are not going to go away.”

Kocer said such people with high needs often face a variety of behavioral and mental health concerns and can be a danger to themselves and others.

On one hand, Kocer said the 2015 shift aims at getting people either back home or in the best placements as quick as possible once they’re able.

However, Oscarson and board members described the move as a way for the state to pass off the placement costs to counties.

“It’s a cost shift from state budgets to county budgets to help state balance their budget,” Oscarson said.

“They’re forcing a property tax increase because they’re not willing to do their job,” he added.

Commissioner Tim Gabrielson noted mental health needs across the state continue to grow, and he said the state is often passing off such costs to counties. Commissioner Jerry Rienartz said the county should pressure the Legislature and local representatives to keep this from happening in the future.

“People have to take some responsibility here for this,” he said.

But Kocer was hopeful some help may be on the way. Gov. Mark Dayton created a task force on mental health in April, and Kocer hopes that will address some of these issues.

In April, Dayton said too many Minnesotans go for too long to get mental health care. More than 200,000 adults and 75,000 children in the state live with mental illness, and people wait an average of 10 years before seeking treatment.

The governor directed the task force to come up with recommendations for caring for Minnesotans with mental illness, including new policies, legislative changes and funding.

The task force will report back to Dayton and the Legislature by the end of November.

—The Associated Press contributed to report.