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Work could shift from paperwork to patients with consistent standards in mental health services

Mental health professionals could spend more time treating patients and less time navigating paperwork and unnecessary requirements with the introduction of uniform service standards.

A yet-to-be-introduced bill focusing on the creation of consistent standards for mental health services in Minnesota was discussed by the House Behavioral Health Policy Division during an informational hearing Wednesday.

Beginning discussions on the draft language now will help ensure the proposed legislation is as sound as possible when it’s formally considered later this session, said Rep. Peter Fischer (DFL-Maplewood), the division chair.

Currently, even the definition of “who is a mental health professional” is unclear in state statute, with six distinct disciplines, defined in 11 separate ways, repeated a total of 47 different times, said Ben Ashley-Wurtmann, human services program coordinator at the Department of Human Services.

“Quickly you have a dizzying array of regulations, some of which openly contradict each other, that a provider is supposed to adhere to,” Ashley-Wurtmann said. “…We needed a unified structure that made sense for DHS and providers both.”

The “core of the new standards” would clean up and focus current requirements, he said.

The proposed legislation would also:

  • manage the transition into a fully unified licensing structure;
  • create specific points of reference for common terms to avoid repeated definitions and mistakes;
  • clarify required qualifications for mental health staff and their respective scopes of practice;
  • align training standards to make it easier for providers with multiple services to share staff between programs;
  • reduce confusion between supervision requirements in mental health services;
  • align basic requirements for the documentation of services and maintenance of client and personnel files, allowing staff and clients to move between services more easily;
  • simplify licensing standards for intensive residential treatment services and residential crisis stabilization programs;
  • provide greater flexibility to ease the transition into residential programs and update discharge standards to improve retention and access to follow-up supports and services;
  • increase consistency between adult and children’s crisis services, while allowing for clinically appropriate differences; and
  • make a wide range of technical and confirming changes.

Changes would also include a reform of diagnostic assessments, which would allow the flexibility needed for providers to spend more time building a common understanding and approaching patients in a culturally centered way, which would help keep people engaged in treatment, Ashley-Wurtmann said.

Working with stakeholders, “we heard that we couldn’t serve diverse communities when regulations were one size fits all,” he said. “Taking time, meeting people where they’re at, is a good idea across the board. But wherever our regulations fall short, it will first be felt in communities experiencing disparities.”

Rep. Keith Franke (R-St. Paul Park) expressed concern about “unintended consequences” that could result from some of the changes, and encouraged legislators to look at “how we head those off at the pass.”

The proposed legislation is included in Gov. Tim Walz’s budget recommendations, and an earlier version was included in the 2019 omnibus health and human services bill, Fischer said.

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