Task force: Recommendations coming soon to reform controversial ‘48-hour rule’
The task force formed to address a mental health crisis in jails and hospitals in Minnesota will miss its deadline to make a final report to the state Legislature, but in its final meeting on Tuesday, the group indicated recommendations are coming soon.
Lawmakers created the “Priority Admissions Task Force” last year when it voted to temporarily rescind what is known as the “48-hour rule” — a provision that required the state to quickly move people out of jail and into mental health treatment after they are civilly committed by the court.
Rather than 48 hours, 5 INVESTIGATES found many people were waiting weeks or months for a bed in a state hospital.
An onslaught of lawsuits against the Department of Human Services for violating the law prompted DHS Commissioner Jodi Harpstead and Attorney General Keith Ellison to ask the Legislature to put the 48-hour rule on hold last year.
“Thereby make it such that we are not the target of the vast amount of litigation that we’re facing at this very moment,” Ellison said during a hearing in May 2023.
In addition to changing the timeline to within 48 hours of a “medically appropriate bed” becoming available, lawmakers also created the task force to come up with potential long-term solutions.
Ellison, who now co-chairs the task force with Harpstead, defended the position he took before the Legislature last year.
“What I’d rather do is fix the problem,” Ellison said. “And that means expansion of capacity and making sure we’re doing priority admissions right.”
At the group’s last meeting on Tuesday, members were still debating the wording of possible recommendations that range from expanding capacity at state run facilities to reworking the priority admissions waiting list to include more than only people waiting in jails.
DHS says there are currently 67 people in jails in Minnesota on the agency’s priority admissions waiting list.
“The crisis, of course, occurs in our jails, occurs in our hospitals,” Harpstead said. “There are people in our community who have been unable to get into our Direct Care and Treatment services because of our capacity, because of the workforce shortage and because of the increased prevalence of behavioral health issues since COVID.”
The task force now expects its final recommendations will be made public as soon as Feb. 12.
Among those watching with interest is Rep. Heather Edelson, DFL-Edina. She and others in the state Legislature could take action as soon as the upcoming session next month.
“It is my intention I will be drafting legislation that will look at what the task force has done on this complicated issue,” Edelson said.
It is not clear if any of the suggested reforms will include a firm time limit, such as 48 hours, for moving people out of jail and into treatment — a point of concern for Kevin Wetherille, who represents several plaintiffs with lawsuits against DHS and is skeptical about whether the task force will lead to meaningful reforms.
“This problem has already been studied. It’s been studied by the Legislative auditor, reports have been written to the legislature before,” Wetherille said. “This task force, to me, was kind of set up to fail from the beginning.”
A contention Harpstead denies.
“I don’t think it was set up to fail at all. It was a rich conversation and I’m glad we all came together,” Harpstead said. “Because we’re all talking about it. We’re looking at the whole problem and we’re understanding it from all different sides.”