Regional Health not equipped to help long-term mentally ill

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RAPID CITY, S.D. -

After making changes to its mental health care options last week, more details emerged Tuesday on Regional Health’s short-term plans for mental health patients no longer admitted to its facilities.

Since Feb. 1, Regional Health is no longer accepting patients of mental illnesses like Alzheimer’s, autism and dementia, as those patients require one-on-one care or isolation for treatment, which it is currently unequipped to provide. READ MORE

The new short-term solution is sending patients in need of isolation or one-on-one care to the Pennington County Jail — a move that's drawn criticism.

"We want to start making sure our patients get to the right place, and get the right form of treatment for their care and their outcomes," said Dr. Lori Wightman, Regional Health’s chief nursing officer.

These changes in policy have left many West River families wondering what’s next in caring for their loved ones.

In the past, these patients were admitted to the Behavioral Health Center in a group therapy setting. But Regional Health studied its care options and saw self-injuries, as well as injuries to physicians and even other patients sharing rooms at the 36-bed Rapid City short-term treatment center. After the study, the healthcare provider realized a change needed to be made.

Regional Health doesn't have a unit devoted to mental health at its main hospital off Fifth Street in Rapid City either — forcing the hospital to turn some mentally ill patients away.

"Even if you're having an acute psychiatric episode, if you do not have any medical reason to be admitted to the hospital — there's no injury, there's no medical issue — we really can't admit that patient, because we don't have behavioral health treatment in that hospital," Wightman said.

So now, at least in the short-term, the mentally ill will go to jail for care, if deemed necessary by hospital staff should he/she be a harm to themselves, their family or others.

Regional Health sent a letter to Pennington County on Jan. 23 with details on the change in policy set to take place just eight days later. It’s a change Sheriff Kevin Thom doesn't agree with.

"I think putting people solely with a mental health issue in a jail is not the right place for treatment. I know the statute allows for it, but again a little bit of a misnomer - it only allows for a 24-hour hold. So, at hour 24, if they're still in crisis, I can't legally hold them any longer,” Thom said. “So then the question is, what do we do with them?"

Thom said the county was caught off guard by the short time frame, though the need for mental healthcare in western South Dakota has been discussed for more than a year with officials from several non-profits and healthcare providers, as well as city, county and state officials.

Still, Wightman said this is the best option in the short-term, given the only mental health treatment centers in South Dakota are east of the Missouri River in Yankton and Redfield.

"We don't want patients going to the jail, but if that's the place where they can be kept safe on a temporary basis, that might be what has to happen for some of our patients," Wightman said.

Both Regional Health and the Pennington County Sheriff's Office were adamant about the fact that western South Dakota needs to find a solution to the lack of available mental health care options.

It's also a concept Rapid City Collective Impact has been studying. READ MORE

Dr. Gilbert Gonzales, the director of mental health for Bexar County, Texas, visited Rapid City Thursday to share his insight on the role a community plays in providing mental healthcare. He developed his Haven for Hope model in San Antonio - a comprehensive health center that first offers patients treatment, and then helps them to lead better lives.

Rapid City is planning to transform the old Native American University building downtown, across Kansas City Street from the Public Safety Building, into the Pennington County Health Facility in the future.

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