Minnesota will boost the number of mental health professionals who can respond to someone in crisis, enabling for the first time all 87 counties to offer crisis services for children and adults.
The state is funneling $13.6 million to counties this year, helping some ramp up their existing services while giving others their first opportunity to start mobile teams.
The grants, announced this week, total an extra $3 million more than what the state doled out last year thanks to the $46 million in new mental health funding approved by the 2015 Legislature — the largest investment for statewide mental health care in Minnesota history.
“When people are in crisis, they need the right help right away,” Human Services Commissioner Emily Johnson Piper said in a statement. “Mobile mental health crisis services provide that help to people wherever they are.”
Instead of calling 911 or going to a hospital, people in crisis can call counties’ crisis teams to talk to a professional or set up a home visit. Social workers answer calls and then immediately respond to help someone manage the crisis and then help stabilize the person’s life, such as providing assistance with insurance paperwork or scheduling therapy.
Over the last decade, crisis psychiatric services have arisen to meet an unprecedented need. In the Twin Cities, the number of crisis calls and mobile visits has risen an average of 72 percent in the past five years.
Hennepin County’s 60 mental health professionals now field more than 24,000 crisis calls and visits a year to adults and children in crisis, up from 3,154 when the service started in 2006.
“We’re definitely just touching the tip of the iceberg,” said Kay Pitkin, administrative manager of Emergency Mental Health Services in Hennepin County. “We could do more. And this increase in funding will help.”
Now, every county — and two tribal nations — will have the services, including counties like McLeod, which hasn’t had a mobile crisis team.
“We’re seeing the needs right now,” said Gary Sprynczynatyk, the county’s human services director.
By helping people in crisis within the community, teams have reduced more expensive hospitalizations, with the state saying four out of five people who contact mobile services don’t go to the hospital.
Since a state law change in 2009, 911 operators can also dispatch a mental health professional instead of police. In the metro area, it’s an uncommon practice, but this month, Ramsey County started a pilot program to train 911 operators on when to transfer calls to crisis responders.
Next, the state hopes to expand crisis services by 2018 so that teams are staffed 24/7 in the entire state, as they are in most metro counties. The state is also working to develop one phone number from the 89 different numbers across the state, hoping more people will use it when it’s as easy to remember as 911.
“It’s been on the upswing,” Pitkin said of crisis services. “I think we’re among the leaders in the nation.”