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Appeal made for better mental health services

The Rapid City Journal - 1/11/2018

Local officials have a message for South Dakota's state senators and representatives as they get down to business in Pierre for the legislative session: West River needs more state-run mental health services.

Rapid City Legal and Finance Committee members unanimously supported a resolution Wednesday for "additional mental health services in Western South Dakota" following the approval of a similar resolution by the Pennington County Board of Commissioners at their Dec. 5 meeting.

Both resolutions came after former state representative Al Scovel made impassioned pleas to the governing bodies for additional mental health services in the area, including the possibility of a new state-run mental health facility in western South Dakota. Currently, the closest state-run facility to Rapid City is in Yankton, about 350 miles away.

"I think it's important to get the state's attention," Council President Jason Salamun said at Wednesday's meeting.

Currently, people in need of mental health care or undergoing a mental health crisis are transported by bus two times a week by the Pennington County Sheriff's Office to Yankton'sHuman Services Center. If the person is deemed a risk to themselves or others on the bus, they are sometimes restrained during the five-hour trip, Rapid City Assistant Police Chief Don Hedrick said after the meeting.

According to the resolution, South Dakota is one of five states where state law allows for people experiencing a mental health crisis to be held in a correctional facility without committing any offense.

"Treating folks with mental health problems like criminals is actually a terrible way to do business," Salamun said. "We can spend money on prisons, but we can invest money in mental health care."

Alderman Steve Laurenti said the distance between Yankton and much of western South Dakota made it difficult for a person's relatives or friends to be there in support, which he called the most important part of a patient's care.

"That's one of the biggest reasons that we need to push our legislators, our state and our federal legislators, to get a facility on the western side of South Dakota," he said. "We need it."

At the end of discussion, an emotional Salamun made one final point.

"If I had one wish for our entire culture, it's to get rid of this stupid stigma regarding mental health care," he said. "If you need help, get it. We want you to live well. We are only as good as the people we have."

Last February, Rapid City Regional Hospital stopped admitting behavioral health patients without acute medical needs to the main hospital when Behavioral Health Center is full. The hospital has also stopped admitting patients with "neurodevelopmental/cognitive disorders" such as dementia, Alzheimer's disease, and autism spectrum disorder to the Behavioral Health Center if they exhibit violent behavior.

In other action, committee members recommended:

Approving a resolution to write off about 6,200 parking tickets from 2014 worth more than $66,000. The unpaid tickets range from $5 to $110. In past years, the city has approved similar resolutions for old parking tickets as the city's finance office tries to clear from their books any tickets that have remained unpaid for more than three years per auditor's recommendations. The council passed a resolution last year forgiving more than $67,000 in fines and forgave around 10,000 tickets worth about $106,000 in 2016 from tickets dating to 2011 and 2012.

Acknowledging the city's sales tax collections for the month of November, which came in at $2,046,512, a 3.5 percent increase compared with collections in November 2016. For the first 11 months of 2017, collections were up 2.5 percent compared with 2016, at $23,126,990.

Authorizing Mayor Steve Allender and Finance Department Director Pauline Sumption to accept about $45,000 in federal funding from the Corporation for National and Community Service for the city's Retired Senior Volunteer Program. RSVP+, which offers adults - specifically those ages 55 and older - the chance to volunteer for a variety of area nonprofits, was put on the chopping block as part of Allender's 2017 budget proposal but eventually restored by the Rapid City Council in September. In 2017, RSVP+ received about $47,000 in federal funding, $28,500 in federal funds and a $35,000 cash influx from the city's general fund. According to city documents, the $45,000 in federal funding expected for 2018 will represent about 40 percent of the program's total operational costs.

Approving an ordinance to supplement the 2018 budget with $6.8 million for the city's planned landfill expansion project this spring and summer. Of the $6.8 million, about $4.7 million will come from the Solid Waste Department's undesignated cash fund and the remaining $2.1 million will come from the department's collection fund. In 2016, the landfill ended with a $345,457 surplus after it collected $6,708,840 against $6,363,383 in expenses, according to Sumption.

Approving the second reading of an ordinance requiring local security companies to conspicuously display the word "security" on both sides and the rear of their vehicles to avoid confusion between the company's vehicles and local law enforcement vehicles. In particular, Black Hills Patrol vehicles have been identified as appearing overly similar to law enforcement vehicles and causing confusion amid the general public.


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