In a cost-saving measure, the Beltrami County Sheriff's Department plans to end transporting mental health patients Jan. 1.
That deadline is forcing Beltrami County commissioners to meet with a community group of providers on Tuesday to hear from Sheriff Phil Hodapp and discuss options.
The meeting is part of the County Board's 3 p.m. work session in the County Administration Building, 701 Minnesota Ave.
County Board Chairman Jim Lucachick told commissioners at their last meeting, Nov. 3, that he had met with about 20 health care and mental health care providers to discuss Hodapp's decision.
Mental health transports are usually involving patients placed under a 72-hour observational hold and need transportation to a facility. Such a hold may be made by a physician, with deputies asked to transport that patient to a secure facility.
Lucachick said the transports, which require two deputies, are creating more overtime than Hodapp would like. "As of Jan. 1, the Sheriff's Office will not transport mental health patients any longer," he said.
"It's not a mandated service," Lucachick added.
Mental health transports have declined since a state-operated Community Behavioral Health Hospital opened in Bemidji, Rick Fraik, sheriff's transport officer, says in a position paper. Still, total mental health transport costs are expected to exceed $27,000.
Of the calls that come from North Country Regional Hospital, half of the patients go to the Bemidji facility across town in the Baker Park building, Fraik said. Juveniles must be transported out of town, usually to Prairie St. Johns in Fargo, N.D.
"Most of the mental transports take place in the late afternoon and evening hours and mental transports assume a majority of transport-related overtime," Fraik wrote.
From January through June, the department racked up 7,493 miles transporting mental health patients, Fraik said.
"Within the past two months we have also only transported citizens from Beltrami County, or patients transported to NCRH by law enforcement," he said. "This change was initiated because we found that many patients may be transported to NCRH by surrounding counties."
Facing the loss of $2 million in state aids, Beltrami County departments have been frugally budgeting for the next two years.
"We have eliminated three part-time officer positions so I estimate the amount of overtime for these mental transports to greatly increase," Fraik wrote.
Providers meeting with Lucachick claim they have no recourse for transport, either. Many patients are without means, and private-pay ambulance is out of the question, not to mention security issues.
Included in the packet for commissioners is a copy of a letter from Stillwater attorney Richard Hodsdon to Rock County Sheriff Evan Verbrugge that states after his research, he found "no legal authority that supports the proposition that a sheriff's office has a legal obligation to transport persons that are suffering from mental health or chemical dependency treatment needs and who are already at a medical or treatment facility."
State law gives law enforcement the legal authority to detain an individual and transport them for the limited purpose to get them to a health facility, Hodsdon wrote. "However, that same law imposes no legal obligation on a sheriff's office to serve essentially as a medical facility transport or taxi to get the proposed patient from one treatment facility to another."
Hodapp is proposing cuts in all its transport services, if possible, saying total costs through October for transports has been $61,459 in wages, $20,000 in vehicle usage and $11,440 in fuel costs.
Overtime hours for mental health transports have been the highest, at 190.75, followed by prison transports at 75.75 hours.