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Editorial: Mental health needs highlighted

Park Rapids, Hubbard County and rural Minnesota is facing increasing challenges when it comes to dealing with health and human services issues such as treating mental health issues, alcohol and substance abuse, child protection and out-of-home placement, and healthcare in general.  Community leaders, healthcare officials and health and human services workers are concerned with exactly how to take on these challenges when it comes to adequate funding and providing critical services .  With an estimated 1.2 million Minnesotans living in rural communities, proportionately our state is slightly more rural than the United States as a whole, this according to a recent study.  

The study, entitled “Stepping Up to the Challenge: Keeping Rural Communities Healthy,” was released by Senator Al Franken’s office with information gathered during a “Rural Health Tour” last year.  The lack of psychiatrists, psychologists, and other health professinals trained in the diagnosis, management, and treatment of mental illnesses is common in rural areas, according to the study. Shortages regularly result in hospital emergency rooms becoming the entry point for individuals needing mental health services. Emergency personnel often lack the training to treat people with mental illness, particularly those with violent tendencies.  Too many people with mental health issues go to the ER for initial treatment, then oftentimes are handed over to law enforcement, and with space limited at mental health facilities, are held in jail for a short period of time then left to the courts to place them.  The study identified the four most common challenges found during the tour, and are not necessarily specific to the Park Rapids area.  n Difficulty accessing needed care and service.

Beyond that, care is becoming more difficult and expensive to deliver as rural populations age and diversify. Beyond that, patients and providers can encounter frustrations trying to navigate the often complicated federal, state, and local health care systems.  

- Critical workforce shortage - Health care facilities in rural communities have more difficulty recruiting and retaining a skilled work force than providers in more urban or suburban settings, especially in the mental health, long term care, primary care, and specialty care fields. As more health care workers age and retire, doctor shortages will grow more acute, as will shortages in other health care fields like dentistry, certified nursing assistants, social workers, and registered nurses. Health providers must also compete with non-health-care businesses in their own communities for a limited number of workers with computer and technical skills.  

- Fragile funding sources to sustain health care access and delivery - Rural communities rely heavily on a fragmented mix of government funding, and public and private grants that are not always adequate to sustain the delivery of needed health care services.  

- Health care rules and policies that hinder the ability to provide care in rural areas - Often Rural providers must deal with regulations, administrative rules, and policies that strain resources and create problems for them and their patients. Many are urging review of some of the rules that tie them up in red tape or otherwise limit efforts to deliver quality care.  In meeting with professionals involved in many of the agencies dealing with health and human services issues, the Enterprise looks to identify some of the biggest areas of concern and how we can address the issues in Park Rapids and Hubbard County.  In the coming weeks the Enterprise will feature a number of stories with people and agencies directly involved in these issues that affect our communities so deeply.

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