West River Behavioral Health Alliance seeks mental health care solutions

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The discrepancy of available mental health care options in western South Dakota was brought to the forefront for several community leaders Wednesday after Regional Health made changes to its mental health care offerings.

Earlier this year, Regional Health announced it would no longer admit patients in need of long-term care, citing a lack of staffing and space at its facilities.

The responsibility was then shifted to county authorities — prompting the creation of the West River Behavioral Health Alliance — which met for the first time Wednesday morning.

The West River Behavioral Health Alliance's first meeting.

"We have clearly found ourselves in a position recently where the community needs for mental health services is greater than the resources available," said Karl Jegeris, chief of the Rapid City Police Department.

Regional Health's announcement of changes to mental health care was met with criticism by some, asking why the health care provider would turn away people in need of care. But under state law, the Department of Social Services is responsible for developing, maintaining and operating mental health services in South Dakota.

In the meantime, Regional Health was diverting patients to the Pennington County Jail for isolation treatment — a practice that will not continue, per Sheriff Kevin Thom.

"We've agreed to avoid that at all costs and look for as many solutions as we can, and not take people to the jail that have just solely a mental health issue," Thom said.

Wednesday's West River Behavioral Health Alliance meeting brought together more than 30 community stakeholders, including Rapid City Collective Impact and the Rapid City Common Council, to identify a better option for mental health patients.

Currently, the closest option is the Human Services Center in Yankton, but the alliance recognizes the need for care in west-river.

"Karl [Jegeris] used the analogy of the Human Services Center West but on a smaller scale, and the state should be at the table to help figure out a solution in their role with that," Thom said.

Pennington County is already looking at adopting an all-inclusive crisis care center at the former National American University building on Kansas City Street — a move the alliance sees as a step in the right direction.

"We anticipate that this is the beginning of the start of something important for our region," said Paulette Davidson, chief operating officer at Regional Health.

Alliance members said they plan to meet again in about two months to further discuss the future of mental health care in western South Dakota.

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