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Minnesota Legislature

New House panel to focus on addiction, mental health services

The House Behavioral Health Policy Division — new this session — will allow lawmakers to focus on bringing improvements and innovation to a system that is key to helping people in need, lawmakers say. House Photography file photo

The House Behavioral Health Policy Division – new this session – will allow lawmakers to focus on bringing improvements and innovation to a system that is key to helping people in need, but that has major gaps.

“The reality is, our system isn’t broken. It was never built,” and has struggled with limited resources since Minnesota began transitioning away from institutional settings to community-based care in the 1960s, said Sue Abderholden, executive director of NAMI Minnesota.

Traditionally, this policy area – which includes substance abuse, addiction, and mental health services – has drawn strong bipartisan interest and encouraged collaboration, Rep. Peter Fischer (DFL-Maplewood), the division chair, told members Wednesday during the group’s first meeting.

House Behavioral Health Policy Division 1/13/21

“Because we all understand that there are rising needs across the state of Minnesota, I think that we’re going to find a great opportunity … to work together to address issues … so that we can start building that system out much more robustly than it is now,” he said.

Testifiers from the Department of Human Services also shared their optimism that the new division will help the Legislature create policies drawing from the experiences of everyone impacted by the system, ranging from patients and their families to care providers, law enforcement, and local government.

Issues identified by testifiers that could be discussed further this session include:

  • process improvements within the department, intended to prevent overpayments and make operations more consistent and reliable;
  • shortages of designated hospital beds, sometimes requiring Minnesotans to leave the state for treatment;
  • ways to retain improvements to telehealth prompted by the state’s COVID-19 pandemic response;
  • focusing on issues through the lens of racial disparities; and
  • increasing and improving the accessibility of crisis services across the state.

“As we think about inequitable access … we’re building services, but are we building the right services in the right places where we have gaps?” said Behavioral Health Division Director Paul Fleissner. “That’s something we need to explore with this committee.”

The division may hold joint hearings with committees focused on education, housing, and criminal justice, which have significant areas of overlap, Fischer said.

 


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