As lawsuits over ‘48 hour rule’ persist, DHS cites lack of funding for mental health beds
As Minnesota struggles to find enough beds to address a mental health crisis in jails, the state’s largest agency is now citing a lack of funding as it continues to fight lawsuits over alleged violations of the 48-hour rule.
Until recently, the law required the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) to transfer inmates to a state-run mental health facility within 48 hours of a civil commitment.
DHS argued to loosen those requirements after 5 INVESTIGATES revealed a pattern of violations that are now at the center of several lawsuits.
In one lawsuit in Scott County, DHS recently told the court it asked for more than $16 million to start renovating the Miller building on the Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center campus.
“The project envisioned a total of 64 flexible-use beds,” Interim CFO Lynn Glancey said in a declaration to the court last month. “The request was not funded by the Legislature.”
Earlier this year, Attorney General Keith Ellison and DHS Commissioner Jodi Harpstead lobbied lawmakers to change the law that the state is accused of repeatedly breaking, arguing they don’t have the capacity to meet the demand for beds.
Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, was among those who unsuccessfully argued against changing the law.
Now, the clock does not start ticking for DHS to transfer someone from jail to a hospital until a bed is available. The legislature also created a task force that is currently charged with studying permanent changes to what is also known as the “Priority Admissions Law.”
“My view is it’s not a priority,” Abeler said. “When you try to abolish the law that sets up the 48 hours to get proper treatment and protection to people who have broken the law, who are mentally ill, it doesn’t say that you’re really interested in doing it.”
Abeler said he heard little discussion about funding for the expansion of the Miller building in Anoka, which was requested in Gov. Tim Walz’s Capital Budget Recommendations.
“It wasn’t talked about very much, and the issue really isn’t so much about the building. It’s about staff,” Abeler said.
DHS declined an interview request but told 5 INVESTIGATES that it “continues to prioritize civilly committed individuals in jails.”
The agency reports that there are currently 49 people on the ‘priority admissions waiting list’ still sitting in jails despite court orders to move them into treatment.
“These men and women in jail and prison deserve to be treated like human beings and get the proper care,” Abeler said. “We don’t just incarcerate mentally ill people.”