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Letter: Mental health services lack needed support

The difficulties that communities have experienced in regard to a county's administration of mental health monies is perhaps no more dire than in Region 2 in the area encompassed by Beltrami, Hubbard, Cass (northern area), Clearwater and Lake of the Woods counties. The longstanding agreement (22-25 years) by the Region 2 Mental Health Initiative not to participate in administrative funding support to the community mental health center has resulted in that institution struggling for years to survive. These counties, which have some of the state's highest levels of poverty also have some of the highest county financial reserves, and attracted the attention of the state auditor in the recent past. Region 2 is one of the few regions in the state that does not meaningfully contribute to the financial health of their regional mental health center.

On Jan. 16 a stakeholders' meeting was hosted by Upper Mississippi Mental Health Center at North Country Regional Hospital. Invited guests representing almost all area services reflected on the strengths, challenges and the need for our embattled and impoverished Mental Health Center. Many people affirmed the ongoing need for current programs as well as the need to serve the uninsured.

The irony of these comments became evident. The center is failing in large part because it has tried to serve all of the unmet needs for the people of our counties. In recent years, Beltrami County has had the highest suicide rate in the state. As former clinical directors, we are saddened and alarmed by the current difficulties faced by the center.

Clinical directors at Upper Mississippi Mental Health Center, with doctorates in psychology, are charged with preserving the clinical quality of services. We were not in charge of the money, but we can readily attest to how the lack of funding erodes the center's ability to retain quality staff.

The three signers of this letter represent 43 of the 49 years of the center's existence and have never seen Upper Mississippi Mental Health Center in such a dire condition. Whether we are aware of it or not, we all know people who have been served by the center. Please contact your county commissioner and encourage them to fully fund Upper Mississippi Mental Health Center.

Don Dekrey

Mark Haugen

Jean Christensen