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Minnesota Legislature

SOS redesign proposed

Published (4/8/2010)
By Lauren Radomski
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A plan from the Department of Human Services to transform care for people with mental illness is opposed by some health care providers and advocacy organizations.

The House Health Care and Human Services Policy and Oversight Committee took testimony March 23 and March 25 on a proposed redesign of State Operated Services, which runs campus and community-based programs serving people with mental illness, developmental disabilities, chemical dependency and traumatic brain injury. SOS is under pressure to eliminate $17 million from its budget by June 2011, the result of unallotment and budget cuts.

“It really felt appropriate that with such significant changes in the total appropriation that would be available to us, we needed to really step back and, rather than just cut across the system, focus on where can we achieve some efficiencies, what can we do differently,” said Dr. L. Read Sulik, assistant commissioner for Chemical and Mental Health Services at the Department of Human Services.

The department proposes closing or reorganizing several existing facilities and creating new psychiatric care centers around the state. Some of the new centers would be targeted at Minnesotans with immediate mental health needs; other facilities would provide care at a lower urgency level. Department officials say the redesign would improve access to mental health services and save money.

Planning for the redesign began in 2008 and has included stakeholder meetings around the state. However, several testifiers said the plan lacks crucial details on cost, timelines and job losses, which could affect an estimated 200 positions.

“Our questions continue to go either under-answered or unanswered,” said Becky Romosz, a nurse at the Community Behavioral Health Hospital in Annandale. “We can’t seem to get a real handle on what’s going on.”

“Our mental health system is woefully underfunded, and so cutting $17 million is simply devastating, not transformative,” said Sue Abderholden, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Minnesota.

Department officials said the redesign will be phased in over the next 15 months, with some changes effective as soon as May.

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