Allina failed to alert state when it shuttered mental health unit for kids

Allina failed to alert state when it shuttered mental health unit for kids

Allina failed to alert state when it shuttered mental health unit for kids

Susan’s daughter survived sexual assault, but it’s the lingering trauma that she says triggers the teen’s severe mental illness.

The 14-year-old spent a year and a half seeking help at different emergency rooms and inpatient facilities dedicated to children and teens, like the one at United Hospital, where they had one of their best experiences.

“It’s been very, very difficult,” Susan said. 5 INVESTIGATES is protecting Susan’s identity because her daughter is a victim of sexual assault.

But the mental health bed that proved so helpful for Susan’s daughter is no longer available. 

Allina Health, which operates United in St. Paul, shuttered that adolescent mental health unit in September and moved its operations to Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis. 

Allina’s decision to “consolidate” the inpatient service is now prompting new concerns from nurses and mental health advocates who say the system is already stretched to the point that families like Susan’s are relying on emergency rooms for care. 

“Emergency Room department boarding was already bad before they closed this unit,” registered nurse Chad Schulze said. “And now it’s even worse.”

Letter of concern

In November, the state’s nurses’ union and the Minnesota chapter of the National Association on Mental Illness sent Allina a letter criticizing the reduction in capacity at such a critical time.

“Closing beds for children and youth during this mental health crisis in the east metro and shifting services to Minneapolis, creates barriers for people in this community,” the letter states.

In the letter, obtained by 5 INVESTIGATES, Allina is also accused of violating a law that requires hospitals to notify the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) about any closures, relocations, and reductions in services.

Allina officials admitted to the violation in an interview this week. 

“It was our error,” said Dr. Mary Beth Lardizabal, Allina’s Vice President of Mental Health and Addiction Services. “They told us that, you know, we did not interpret that regulation correctly.”

MDH has scheduled a virtual public hearing with Allina regarding the changes for Dec. 21 at 6 p.m. Interested participants can also call in at (651) 395-7448 and use the access code 933 516 723#.

State Sen. Erin Murphy (DFL-St. Paul) believes the hospital’s failure shows the regulation needs to be tightened. 

“The law that we put in place seems not strong enough,” Murphy said. “And I think it is time for us to strike a new deal with our hospitals.”

Lawmakers added requirements for hospitals in recent years after an outcry over consolidations and closures in Greater Minnesota.

The consolidation of inpatient mental health services for adolescents has been an ongoing concern for the Minnesota Nurses Association, which co-authored the letter with NAMI.

Capacity crunch

Dr. Lardizabal said the children’s mental health unit is still below its capacity.

In the last year and a half, Susan said her daughter spent 95 days boarding in various ERs in the Twin Cities due to a lack of inpatient beds.

Her last resort: moving her daughter to a residential facility in North Carolina.

“In reality, we’re losing beds for children, and more and more children are needing the help, mental health help,” she said.

Editor’s note: The original version of this story stated Allina did not clarify the number of mental health beds available for children and adolescents. However, in a subsequent email to 5 INVESTIGATES, Allina Health did clarify the number of beds in writing. According to Allina, there are currently 32 mental health beds that are available for youth and adolescent care.