On Oct. 13, about 85 community members gathered to break ground on Sanford Health’s new $6.2 million Behavioral Health Crisis Center. Once completed, the 12,000-square-foot facility will be the first center to offer adult inpatient hospital psychiatric beds within 90 miles of Bemidji.
The center will be the first to feature an Emergency Psychiatric Assessment Treatment and Healing, or EmPATH, unit for adults, children and adolescents. With the EmPATH unit, the center will be able to provide adults and adolescents outpatient crisis care.
It will also offer continued assessment, individualized treatment planning, access to multi-disciplinary teams, immediate psychiatric services, collaboration with primary care physicians and access to medical interventions. In total, the facility will have eight inpatient beds.
The groundbreaking for the new facility took place after a year of increased residents needing mental health treatment. In 2020, mental health screenings at Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota were up 600% to 700% over 2019.
“After this past year and a half, I think all of us understand having support close to home, especially in times of crisis,” Susan Jarvis, Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota president and CEO, said at the head of the ceremony. “For patients experiencing a behavioral health crisis close to home, this could not only save their life, but for many, it’s a step toward improving their quality of life, by getting them immediate access to the help they need.”
To make the project a reality, Sanford partnered with Beltrami County. The local government was instrumental in funding the facility, as it assisted in successfully applying for a $3.65 million grant from the Minnesota Department of Health’s Crisis Bond Project.
Additionally, through the county, the project received $1.45 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. The remainder of the project is being funded by the Sanford Health Foundation of Northern Minnesota.
Susan Jarvis, president of Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota, gives a project overview ahead of a groundbreaking ceremony on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021, for Sanford’s new Behavioral Health Crisis Center. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)
Behavioral health needs
Health officials noted the mental health treatment needs, citing how Sanford’s Bemidji Medical Center sees an average of six mental health patients per day. Sanford’s Bemidji Mobile Crisis Unit also saw a 23% increase in encounters during 2019-20 and an additional 44% increase from 2020-2021.
Sanford Health also had a total of 406 patients in crisis requiring inpatient psychiatric care in 2020, and the closest facility with that treatment capacity is 90 miles away.
“The escalating behavioral health and mental health challenges in our community have taken their toll on infrastructure not intended to address those needs,” Beltrami County Administrator Tom Barry said. “Our hospital is not designed or staffed to serve the growing population of patients in a mental health crisis. Our county jail, often the place of last resort for those in crisis, was also not designed, staffed or capable to serve patients.”
Those experiencing a mental health emergency and ending up at the jail are what pushed former Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp to advocate at the Minnesota Legislature for more behavioral health facilities. Hodapp said the issues originated from the state closing its mental health hospitals.
“The idea was that they were going to create smaller, community mental health care facilities, which is a good idea,” Hodapp said. “The problem is, that never happened. So the problem was people in mental health crises wound up getting arrested. </…….