Hennepin County approves $20 million to expand, add new mental health support services

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Hennepin County is in the process of implementing an increase in mental health services. The County Commission approved $20 million in American Rescue Plan funding to support nearly a dozen new and expanding programs.

“Instead of punishing someone for a behavior or an illness or a need for support, we are as a county saying ‘You are deserving of our care’,” said Commissioner Irene Fernando.

Before the pandemic, it was estimated about 200,000 adults in Hennepin County and 33,000 children were dealing with mental illness. According to the county, four times more individuals are now reporting symptoms of anxiety or depression.

“There’s no doubt COVID has had a significant impact on people’s mental health,” said Leah Kaiser, Senior Dept. Administrator for Hennepin County Behavioral Health. “We need to redirect the trend as quickly as possible.”

Kaiser proposed a broad increase in supports for Hennepin County residents using ARP funding.

The Commission approved on Tuesday expanding school-based mental health programs, developing and expanding culturally specific mental health services, launching a juvenile behavioral health initiative to reduce involvement in the justice system, expanding family home visiting to support families and child development and create a family-based recovery pilot program to create an in-home treatment option for families dealing with substance use disorders.

The action will also expand the Caring Connections 4Kids program, which is a partnership between public health nurses and child protection to conduct screenings and connect children to services. In addition, the county will expand services to reduce the need for out-of-home placements of children by increasing support for families when a child is experiencing mental health issues.

The approved plan also incorporates reforms geared more directly towards public safety, including building a pilot program to create an alternative response to 911 behavioral health calls, expanding the embedded police social workers program across all Hennepin County cities and expanding the hours at the Behavioral Health Center at 1800 Chicago, which is a walk-in site that provides a wide range of resources from employment services to substance use disorder resources.

“It’s 11 o’clock at night, it’s midnight and we have someone in crisis – jail is absolutely not ever the appropriate place, 1800 Chicago however is,” said Commissioner Angela Conley, during Tuesday’s meeting.

The $20 million is expected to fund these programs through 2024. According to Kaiser, they will work to create a sustainable funding source as they develop the programs.

“A lot of the initiatives that are going to be funded through the APR funds are testing out new ideas and really innovative solutions to some pretty long-standing system problems,” said Kaiser. “What we want to be able to do is to make every encounter, every interaction with an individual that might need mental health or substance use supports, make it count and get the help right away so that we can prevent those deeper end interventions that are more costly, that are more traumatic, that can lead to lots more system involvement.”

Kaiser said deeper end interventions can include jail bookings, placing children in residential congregate care settings, or in-patient hospitalizations.

“This is really about system reform,” she said. “What I want to be able to do is test out new ideas, learn through those ideas, and improve upon those ideas. […] We also want to make sure we’re connecting with our residents to find out from the resident experience – Are these working for you? Are they working the way you want them to work? Do they meet your needs from a cultural standpoint? Are they responsive to your changing needs, your changing environment?”