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Shortage of mental health beds still a problem

The jail study is in the final proof stage and should be done soon, Sheriff Kelly Lake informed Carlton County commissioners during their regular meeting Tuesday morning.

Lake was asked if there really is a shortage of mental health beds at this time. She said there is definitely a statewide shortage of available beds for both long- and short-term patients.

"We have had to sit in the emergency room with someone 12-14 hours while they search for a bed throughout the state," said Lake. She added that if there are no beds available in Minnesota, some patients end up getting transported to Fargo.

"The solution to fix it is not as easy as you would think," Lake said.

She added that the nearest place short-term beds are available is in Duluth, and they are often full.

Dave Lee, director of Carlton County Public Health and Human Services, addressed the commissioners and summarized regional options. He said they have been working on ramping up and expanding their mobile crisis team in Carlton County for some time.

"We're looking at licensing changes for the crisis stabilization center (Birch Tree Center in Duluth), with some of the beds becoming swing beds," said Lee. He explained that currently all of the beds are short term, meaning under 10 days. They are exploring the option to see if they can change licensing so half of the beds can be used for either under 10 or up to 30 days to help meet the needs of more patients.

Lee said mental health beds can cover a large range of issues, from crisis stabilization to intensive rehabilitation. Wellstone Center in Eveleth and Birch Tree Center are a few of the places the county works with.

"Logistically it's been very difficult to do," said Lee.

Those options are for patients who have not committed a criminal act. If a patient has committed a crime and needs mental health treatment, options include the St. Peter state psychiatric hospital or Oak Park Heights Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison located near Stillwater — depending on what the needs of the individual are.

In other board news:

• According to JinYeene Neumann, Carlton County engineer, the current road projects have gone well and are winding down. The half-percent local option sales tax for transportation projects has allowed several roads in Carlton County to be repaired this year that the county would not have been able to fund otherwise. Those roads do not qualify for state funding. The list of roads that qualify for local option sales tax in 2018 will be shorter than this year's list.

• There will be a public hearing to receive input and recommendations for an amendment for sign regulations of Carlton County Zoning Ordinance 27. It will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 1, at the County Transportation Building. For more information, go to co.carlton.mn.us or call 218-384-9174.

• U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar's staff will participate in an open discussion on the opioid crisis in Carlton County at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 17, at Cloquet City Hall. The public is invited.

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