It doesn’t matter if a hospital is in downtown Minneapolis or a small farming community. With more than 500,000 Minnesotans struggling with a mental illness, the state’s world-class medical centers share an alarming challenge: meeting the needs of patients who seek care for depression, substance abuse, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia and other conditions.

The Minnesota Hospital Association (MHA), whose members are grappling with rising emergency room visits due to these conditions, correctly calls mental health the “most pressing public health crisis facing Minnesota.” Legislators ought to heed that warning and approve the pragmatic solutions prescribed by the hospitals to help them meet the demand for care. Worthy initiatives championed by the MHA include a proposal to open up beds at the Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center and a measure to provide full funding for seven community behavioral health hospitals.

But action is especially critical right now for a high-profile MHA initiative, known as the “Excellence in Mental Health Care Act,” which would allow the state to expand access to community health services, a level of care aimed at preventing crises requiring hospitalization. Passing the bill would allow the state to compete for federal dollars needed to roll out a two-year pilot program that would remove hurdles to care and social services critical to recovery.

Community clinics that choose to become certified in the new program would offer “one-stop care” for adults and children. The clinics would provide treatment for complex mental health conditions and substance abuse, as well as connect patients with resources to help them find housing, jobs and other services. Traditionally, patients and their families seek out services separately, which can act as a deterrent to accessing aid and other supports that play an important role in recovery. The clinics also would have specialized outreach for veterans.

To make the program a reality, Minnesota must continue vying to become one of eight states chosen by federal officials to participate in a national, two-year mental health demonstration project. State lawmakers passed a 2015 measure allowing the state to pursue participation. Passing the “Excellence in Mental Health Care Act” would allow the proposal to continue competing. Because of Minnesota’s health care reputation and the strong support from its providers, its proposal should be a leading contender. If the state is selected, federal officials will match up to 90 percent of the state’s $8.5 million investment in the program

If the legislation fails, Minnesota will no longer be able to compete. The bill has bipartisan support, but with dwindling session hours, the transportation debate is diverting lawmakers’ energy. “This is our only chance to do this,’’ said Sue Abderholden, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ Minnesota chapter. “We think we have the capacity and the knowledge, and we certainly have the need. If they blow it, then who knows when we’ll be able to do this?’’