BAXTER - Fifteen hours after he walked away from the Community Behavioral Health Hospital in Baxter, law enforcement officers on Wednesday located a 20-year-old male patient in Mission Township.
The patient, according to the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Department, was found sitting in a ditch along Crow Wing County Road 11 north of Merrifield smoking a cigarette. Officers were notified of his whereabouts after receiving several calls from area residents. The patient has since been returned to the psychiatric hospital.
Because the man is a patient at a psychiatric hospital, the Dispatch will not release his name. According to Baxter Police, the man was referred to the hospital from a Twin Cities hospital. He had been at the hospital for about a week and was not considered a danger to the public, only to himself.
The patient was reported missing from the hospital at about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.
After an initial search of the area with a K9 unit, law enforcement forces regrouped, a State Patrol helicopter was called in to search from the air and officers canvassed neighborhoods.
Officers on the ground went door to door, handing out fliers with basic information on the individual and talked to residents about the situation.
Exactly how the man escaped from the Grand Oaks Drive hospital night wasn't known Wednesday.
Richard Slieter, Community Behavioral Health Hospital administrator, declined to comment on the incident and referred questions to Patrice Vick, communications director for State Operated Services of the Minnesota Department of Health.
Vick said questions about how the patient escaped would be best answered by local law enforcement. She said whatever problems there are at the hospital will be addressed.
"The people in that hospital have mental issues. We worry about their safety," when they walk away, Vick said. "We don't worry about the safety of others."
Baxter Police Chief Jim Exsted said his officers were advised by hospital staffers that the patient was able to get over the outdoor, 10-foot, non-climbable fence. He said his department intends to allow the hospital to complete its investigation before inquiring how the patient was able to leave the hospital and to make sure it doesn't happen again.
"It's a scenario we didn't want to see happen, but it did and our main job is for our residents to be safe. That's why we went to the neighborhoods," Exsted said. "I can't guarantee anyone's safety but our job is to give peace of mind and that's what we did."
Exsted said similar incidents happened often when the psychiatric hospital was located at Brainerd Regional Human Services Center.
Baxter Mayor Darrel Olson commended officers for their swift action in notifying surrounding residents. He said the city will address the situation with state and hospital officials.
"First of all, there is no perfect location for this type of facility. What happens inside that building is the responsibility of the state. We're not sure what went wrong, but we will be asking those questions and making sure those issues are addressed," Olson said.
Bob Milloch, member of the Community Behavioral Health Hospital community advisory committee, said he was concerned when officers notified him that the patient had left the facility because Milloch's grandson was riding his bicycle in the neighborhood at the time.
But Milloch said he was happy with law enforcement's response and understands that such incidents happen. One instance hasn't removed his faith that the hospital is secure, he added.
"I still wish it wouldn't have happened, of course. These things, you don't like to see them because then it gets the community riled up and they weren't happy about the hospital going in there in the first place," Milloch said. "But you know, if they were to put it in the business district, you could see the same thing happening and it might even be more serious. So no matter where it's at, people are going to be concerned."
Milloch said the community advisory committee would meet sometime next week to discuss the incident.
The 16-bed psychiatric hospital opened in January as psychiatric services were phased out with the closing of Brainerd Regional Human Services Center. Its purpose is to treat non-violent adult patients who are suffering from severe and acute mental illness. It is a locked hospital and patients are only allowed outside in a fenced area.
The city of Baxter placed several conditions on the hospital: security cameras must be used; a 10-foot high, non-climbable fence be built around the hospital; and a neighborhood advisory committee must be established.
Baxter also ordered that the facility will not be used as a detox or chemical dependency center; that pedophiles or other patients with a sexual-related diagnosis will not receive treatment for such illnesses at the hospital; and that the facility will not provide services to anyone who needs to receive an evaluation to determine ability to stand trial or need to be treated to stand trial or who has been committed as mentally ill and dangerous or a sexual psychopathic personality or a sexually dangerous person.
Background checks are conducted to determine if patients fall into any category not allowed at the hospital. If they do, they will have to be moved to another facility within 24 hours.
MATT ERICKSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5857.
JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5851.
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