Health experts, legislators look ahead as rural Minnesota feels impacts of mental health care shortage

Health experts, legislators look ahead as rural Minnesota feels impacts of mental health care shorta

MANKATO, Minn. (KEYC) - New information from the Minnesota Department of Health finds that Minnesota now faces a shortage of mental health care providers and a maldistribution of them.

Data released in November last year finds that there were just over 23,400 mental health care providers in the state.

Eighty to 90 percent of those worked in urban areas according to Teri Fritsma, a Lead Health Care Workforce Analyst in the MDH Office of Rural Health & Primary Care.

Only two to three percent of all mental health providers in Minnesota are working in isolated rural areas says Fritsma.

“If you assume that the demand for those services is equal across the state, then you can see how that very well could affect access to those providers,” Fritsma said.

According to Fritsma, there is also a hiring demand for psychologists, mental health counselors/marriage and family therapists, social workers and alcohol and drug counselors.

For example, there are 706 projected job openings in the mental health counselors/marriage and family therapists field between 2016 to 2026.

Meanwhile, there were 458 graduates in those fields from Minnesota institutions in 2016, Fritsma said.

Rural Minnesotans seeking mental health treatment also have to travel three times longer than urban patients to get care, according to the MDH.

According to Fritsma, one solution to getting more providers to work in rural areas includes their loan forgiveness program, which forgives loans for those who commit to working in rural areas.

Since 2016, the program has funded 133 mental health providers who are working in rural areas.

Fritsma said the MDH is also working with Minnesota State, who runs the career and education resource Career Wise, to create a health care portal to help students understand their career options.

State lawmakers have the issue on their minds as they prepare for the upcoming session.

Rep. Jack Considine (D-Mankato) said he plans to create a commission to address mental health care support for prison inmates and staff.

“We’re going to need to get the stakeholders together. We’re going to need to have people from the custody staff from the prisons, from mental health," he said.

Local community organizations are also offering solutions.

Mankato Clinic is holding a series of Mental Health First Aid training sessions.

Mary Beth Trembley from the Mankato Clinic Department of Psychiatry teaches the course, which helps participants identify signs of different mental illnesses.

“It will really empower them with information about those illnesses, break down the stigma and then connect them to the appropriate resources," she said.

Alissa Style, a direct support professional taking the course, said the strategies taught in the class can help in a variety of different situations.

“Just, support strategies for my clients and also even in my personal life. I recently had to intervene on a friend’s suicide attempt, so it gives just more skills to do that more effectively," she said.

Mankato Clinic also holds a Youth Mental Health First Aid class for adults who regularly interact with youth.

Mankato Area Public Schools (MAPS) has also started working with the Mankato Clinic to offer the class to its staff and teachers, according to MAPS Licensed School Nurse Heather Hedin.

The youth class builds understanding of the importance of early intervention.

According to the MDH, half of all mental health conditions develop by age 14.

“Early intervention is so important, because we can catch it while we can still intervene,” Hedin said.

Style said being knowledgeable on mental health issues is important.

“I know that most people know someone that has mental illness, and you can help them just by listening," she said.

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