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Nicollet County to withdraw from Sioux Trails Mental Health Center

St. Peter Herald - 8/23/2017

Editor's note: This story was updated at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday with comments from Sioux Trails Mental Health Center Executive Director Catherine Job.

Nicollet County will stop using Sioux Trails Mental Health Center as its mental health care provider.

The County Board of Commissioners, meeting Tuesday, agreed to send Sioux Trails a notice of termination. The county must have a designated mental health care provider to provide services to those without insurance, whose care is paid for by the county.

Nicollet County was one of the founding members of Sioux Trails about 50 years ago. But in recent years, county staff have been dismayed at the turnover, slow communication and tardy release of diagnostic results that pave the way for appropriate treatment.

"Some of our biggest concerns relate to client care," said Cassie Sassenberg, a supervisor in the county Human Services Department. Instead of a 30-day wait for diagnostic assessments, "some are between 75 and 90 days, which is causing people to go without mental health services they need."

Center Executive Director Catherine Job said Tuesday evening that the county had not provided the center with a list of patient concerns in her 13 years there.

"Nicollet County canceling our contract doesn't impact our ability or willingness to serve Nicollet County residents," she said. "Our clinic isn't closing. The county makes up a very small portion of our funding stream."

Sioux Trails' board of directors meets on Tuesday night.

The center has locations in St. Peter, North Mankato, New Ulm, Gaylord and St. James. Nicollet County has received diagnostic services and outpatient therapy for adults and children, as well as psychiatric services, rehabilitative services and clinical supervision for children's mental health unit.

The county covers the cost of mental health care for 50 to 60 people who do not have other insurance, County Administrator Ryan Krosch said recently. But even that number is not clear, as Sioux Trails has not sent the county patient data.

Job said the clinic gets referrals through a wide variety of sources.

"The majority of our referrals don't come through the county," she said. "They come from other places, other partners in the county."

Most of the clinic's patients pay through insurance, she said.

"My message is that it's business as usual for us," Job said. "We will continue to see residents of Nicollet County."

The county will pay Sioux Trails $237,757 for mental health care in 2017. But a chunk of that is a sort of retainer, which is a base to which patient fees are added. The retainer was a key piece of the support for Sioux Trails when it started in 1966, as there were no mental health care options. Brown, Nicollet, Sibley and Watonwan counties, which were required by the state to provide mental health care for the uninsured, banded together and started the center.

"We are in a different environment now," county Human Services Director Joan Tesdahl said. "Mental health services look entirely different now than they did in 1965 or '66."

Without the retainer piece, county administration said the county could save about $80,000 per year.

Tesdahl indicated that Sioux Trails has struggled with staff turnover and service for at least a dozen years.

The board passed a resolution to give Sioux Trails a 90-day termination notice by Sept. 30, ending the relationship at the end of the year. The board's resolution also called for a transition plan to be created to provide care.

Commissioner John Luepke asked, "What about the other counties?"

Tesdahl said, "It's too early to know. They're waiting to see what happens with us."


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