A central Minnesota hospital said it will no longer take patients who are ordered by a court to undergo psychiatric treatment.
St. Joseph's Medical Center in Brainerd, run by not-for-profit system Essentia Health, said it will now only accept patients who seek voluntary psychiatric treatment to its 16-bed behavioral health center — not patients who are involuntarily ordered to such care by the courts. Minnesota Public Radio reported Friday that the hospital cites a lack of beds and staffing concerns as reasons.
Department of Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper said she fears the move might lead other private hospitals to do the same.
"What obligation do you have as one of the state's largest health systems to continue to serve the people of our state in a comprehensive way? Particularly in greater Minnesota, where people really rely on the Essentias of the world to serve all of the needs of the people in that community," Piper said.
Dr. Peter Henry, chief medical officer of Essentia Health, said that last year, 63% of the 451 people admitted to the hospital's mental health unit were there involuntarily, leaving little room for others seeking help with suicidal thoughts or other mental illnesses.
"We recognize for the safety of the patients that were there voluntarily as well as safety of our staff, that this facility was never designed to take and house involuntarily patients who have propensity to be violent against either other patients, the community or the staff," Henry said.
Law enforcement officials have also raised concern about a loss of psychiatric beds in the state. Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek said when the mental health system is compressed, many people who need help end up in jail, "and that is not the place for someone who suffers from mental illness to sit and wait for something to open up."