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RELEASE: Rep. Baker, Sen. Koenen introduce legislation to expand children's mental health services

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

ST. PAUL, MN—Sen. Lyle Koenen, DFL-Clara City, and Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, are introducing legislation this week to expand mental health services for children with severe mental illnesses. The bill would establish what are known as Children's Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facilities (PRTFs), which would provide services not available at the Children and Adolescent Behavioral Health Services program, which the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) says is not equipped to handle the needs of the most severe children's mental health cases due to financial constraints and other care limitations. DHS estimates that between 300 and 400 children each year have needs that can't be met by current DHS services.

The bill would authorize the creation of treatment facilities resulting in a total of 150 beds at up to six sites across the state in the next three years.

"This program would make a difference for hundreds of children with severe mental health issues across the state, as well as their families," Rep. Baker said. "We need to do a better job providing quality care that is available close-by, not hundreds of miles away from their family and their community. The children who use these services are some of our most vulnerable and at-risk youth in the state, and deserve the specialty care these facilities would provide to improve their mental well-being and ensure improved quality of life."

“Ensuring that children experiencing severe mental illness can access the care they need close to home is better for them, their families and all of us,” said DHS Commissioner Lucinda Jesson. “This is one of those issues on which we can all agree, and I applaud these local leaders for moving forward this important legislation. Working together, we can help create a mental health system that works better for children and their families across the state.”

“It is our responsibility as a state to ensure that all children have access to the services they need to lead a healthy life," Sen. Koenen said. "The expanded availability of residential treatment beds will ensure the children most in need of care will be able to receive it and still be close to their families. This program will not only benefit the children who utilize this treatment, but will also allow families to stay in their communities.”

House File 1653 was referred to the Health and Human Services Reform Committee, where it awaits its first committee hearing. Sen. Koenen's companion bill is set to be introduced Thursday.