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Lawmakers seek health funding

ST. PAUL -- Some Minnesota lawmakers say they have found a way to prevent closing physical and mental health facilities serving the disabled, mentally ill and chemically dependent and those with brain injuries.

They would spend $17 million in federal and state money to keep the facilities open at least temporarily. Some lawmakers say the goal is to fund the programs until Gov. Tim Pawlenty leaves office, with the hope that the governor who takes office next January will be more friendly toward the programs.

Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, said her proposal would save the 75 to 200 jobs that would be lost under a Department of Human Services plan released a month ago. No one could say how many patients would be affected by the Pawlenty administration cuts.

If lawmakers adopt the Berglin plan, it would supersede the Pawlenty proposal.

Berglin, the Senate health-care finance chairwoman, did not offer a complete plan, and lawmakers said they have many questions about what services would be saved.

The Pawlenty administration was not ready to react to the Berglin proposal.

"DHS needs to see entire legislative proposals for human services spending before commenting on any specific proposal," a department statement said. "The reality remains that we need to reduce spending in State Operated Services, reform the state-operated mental health system and do it now."

Many lawmakers said the administration's plan does not show how patients would be treated after services begin to end as early as May 1.

Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, said the administration's plan "was not thought through well."

Tomassoni was especially upset with the plan to remove about a dozen mental health beds in Eveleth, saying that the action would hurt the city-owned medical clinic, nursing home and dialysis center. The state proposed a new northeastern Minnesota facility to replace the Eveleth one, but has offered no details.

"It was kind of sprung upon us," Tomassoni said.

Human Services officials say they do have plans.

"The DHS plan to redesign state-operated mental health services assures that patients will receive access to a more appropriate level of care than is available in the system today," a department statement said. "Regarding the planned closure of dental clinics, we are working to help affected patients find the services they need."

Five dental clinics serving developmentally disabled Minnesotans in Fergus Falls, Willmar, Cambridge, Brainerd and Faribault would close under the administration's plan, three almost immediately. Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, said these are severely disabled patients who cannot go to regular dentists because of their special dental problems and the fact that most dentists do not want to serve them.

Sen. Dan Skogen, DFL-Hewitt, said about 500 patients a year use the Fergus Falls dental office and he does not know where they would go if it closes.

Also unknown, Skogen said, is where patients would go who now are served by the Wadena Community Behavioral Health Hospital, which provides inpatient psychiatric care

Juhnke said the administration's decision to shutter the programs is usurping legislative authority. "The governor shouldn't be doing this."

He said it is not clear how the Bergin plan would affect a Conversion of Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health Services facility in Willmar. Also unclear is the impact on child and adolescent psychiatric extensive recovery treatment facilities in Willmar and Bemidji.

Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.