The recent decision by the Department of Human Services and State Operated Services to close down the Brainerd Children and Adolescent Behavioral Health Systems is both concerning and frustrating. The health systems program served young people with severe and major mental illness issues. It really helped these young people turn their lives around, and also provided help for the whole family. The question becomes, where will these children and their families go now to get the help they need? While the health systems program in Willmar will remain open and add six more beds to their program capacity, this will in no way take care of the need.
Dr. Tom Wittkop, a contracted psychiatrist at Brainerd Regional Treatment Center was recently quoted as saying, "There's no question county social services in northern Minnesota are going to be adversely affected by this." So will our kids and families with mental health needs.
The most frustrating thing to me about this process was to have the administration folks from the Department of Human Services and State Operated Services not listen to, work with or allow input from the Children and Adolescent Behavioral Health Systems staff or local legislators. When it became clear what the Department of Human Services and State Operated Services were doing to the health systems programs, Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, and myself sent letters to the department and State Operated Services administrators simply requesting two things, first, that the health systems employees be involved in the process in order to provide suggestions and input to help retain both programs for our children, and secondly, that Rep. Juhnke and myself be invited to our respective local meetings to do what we could to help retain both programs. There were staff meetings and even Rep. Juhnke and myself were invited for a private meeting with Mike Tessneer, chief executive officer of State Operated Services. However, it was clear these meetings were for courtesy only and not for any problem solving to help retain a much needed service for all Minnesota children and families. Where will our children go? The Department of Human Services needs to be working with the people and families in the community who know these issues to create a good re-use plan for Brainerd's Children and Adolescent Behavioral Health Systems program, not ignoring us so they can close it faster.
To me, it is quite clear that minds were made up, decisions were made and "the plan" was moving forward with no interruptions. As a matter of fact, one of the State Operated Services administrators made a statement saying that Rep. Ward will not save the Brainerd Children and Adolescent Behavioral Health Systems program! I am fearful that with the Regional Treatment Center's and Children and Adolescent Behavioral Health Systems' programs being downsized or eliminated, other needed ones like Development Disability programs or Chemical Dependency programs will become the next ones to be affected. That is why I am proposing legislation (H.F. 2588) which would require the Department of Human Services and State Operated Services to receive legislative approval before making any more changes which will affect or impact our children and families with very real and serious needs
REP. JOHN WARD, DFL-Brainerd, is a first-term legislator and a retired teacher. He represents District 12A.
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