Mental health among pressing needs found in Duluth assessment
Mental health emerged as one of Duluth's most pressing health needs in an unprecedented combined assessment by the city's major health institutions. "We know we have a shortage of mental health providers," said Amy D. Westbrook, public health div...
Mental health emerged as one of Duluth's most pressing health needs in an unprecedented combined assessment by the city's major health institutions.
"We know we have a shortage of mental health providers," said Amy D. Westbrook, public health division director for the St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services Department. "We know it's an issue that our community is dealing with ... where we have a lot of gaps."
Mental health, along with alcohol, drug and tobacco use; obesity; and socioeconomic disparities based on race and neighborhood were listed as the greatest needs in a community health needs assessment undertaken during the past several months by the city's two hospitals, the St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services Department and three other organizations, according to a news release from St. Luke's hospital.
The hospitals are required by law to carry out such an assessment every three years and the health department every five years. What's unique this time around is that the entities agreed to conduct their assessment together, said Jenny Peterson, executive director of Generations Health Care Initiative, one of the organizations involved.
"What this community has done is outstanding in that all three organizations that were required to do community needs assessments came together," Peterson said. "This has not happened very often in this country. We are all working from one document and one set of priorities."
The organizations used data from the 2015 Bridge to Health Survey, a comprehensive regional survey of health care needs which drew responses from more than 6,000 people. They then convened focus groups that included Native American elders, college students, parish nurses and business people, among others, Peterson said.
"We asked those groups to prioritize what they see as the most pressing needs," Westbrook said.
Mental health care - or the lack of it - has been a consistently recurring theme in Duluth this year. In April, Dr. Kristi Estabrook, a psychiatrist at Essentia Health-St. Mary's Medical Center said as many as 16 of the hospital's 25 emergency department beds can be filled with mental health patients, and many of them stay for days.
In August, Evan Janson, nurse manager for the psychiatric unit at St. Luke's, said patients sometimes stay there for weeks or months because there's no place for them to go, although the hospital is intended for short-term stays. Dr. Peter Henry, chief medical officer for the Essentia Health System, said Minnesota mental health patients are sent wherever space is available, so they often are treated far away from where they live.
A unified effort was launched in April to develop a standalone "triage center" as a first stop for individuals in a mental health crisis in Duluth.
The coalition that conducted the needs assessment, calling itself "Bridging Health Duluth," will announce for addressing the four priority areas by Nov. 15, according to the news release.
"What we want to do is have the collective resources of these organizations really focused in these areas," Peterson said. "If we're working separately we don't have the strong impact we have if we're all working together."