October 3, 2022

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Noem, DSS expanding access to mental health care

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Access to mental health crisis facilities will expand in South Dakota with the use of federal funds.

Monday Governor Kristi Noem and the Department of Social Services (DSS) announced an expansion to behavior health facilities across the state with $15 million from the American Rescue Plan Act approved by the legislature. In a statement released Monday, the governor and DSS said that $3,750,000 will be spent over the next four years for new construction and expansion of current regional facilities.

“Adding short-term regional crisis stabilization services in each region of the state is a very positive step for South Dakota,” DSS Cabinet Secretary Laurie Gill said in a statement.

The funds will provide $232,938 to the Lewis & Clark Behavioral Health Services facility in Yankton, $3.5 million to the Human Services Agency in Watertown, and $4.6 million for construction of a new facility in Pennington County.

The 24-bed addition to the Care Campus in Rapid City is expected to open later this year according to Chief Deputy Willie Whelchel. The new crisis stabilization center will address a decades-old problem he adds by providing patients dealing with mental health crises with a designated, short-term facility in western South Dakota.

“We know that taking folks that are in crisis clear across the state to Yankton, taking them away from family and friends and their support, that puts a hardship on families and the individuals going through the crisis,” Whelchel said.

Crisis stabilization center in Rapid City, South Dakota. Photo courtesy of Pennington County Sheriff’s Department.

The facility, which will be located next to the CARE Campus near the Sheriff’s Office in Rapid City, was approved in the 2021 legislative session. Helene Duhamel with the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office says it was a community effort to raise the remaining funds needed to build the facility. 

“When we sold this project, we knew it was a better delivery system and we knew it would be the wave of the future and it is,” Duhamel said. “Keep the people close to home, close to their support systems, and in five days you can usually stabilize most crises.”

The new crisis stabilization will focus on mental health care while the Care Campus will continue substance abuse and addiction care, Whelchel said. This facility will also provide patients with short-term care ranging from one to five days as opposed to 24-hour care.

Whelchel added that right now at the Care Campus, they have seen approximately 3,200 patients and have had 83,000 intakes since it opened in 2018.

“We’re helping a lot of folks,” Whelchel said.

Law enforcement and health care systems will collaborate to provide care to those experiencing mental health crises, he added.

“This is an important part of the well-being for a community as a whole,” Whelchel said. “We talk about alcohol, drug abuse, mental health, so it’s important that communities come up with these resources. It just helps to make a community, not only safe, but healthy.” 

According to DSS, those that go through crises often end up incarcerated or involuntarily committed to psychiatric facilities. But the goal with the expanded short-term facilities is to provide access to care in a less restrictive facility, closer to home for those that need it.

“We want all South Dakotans, regardless of where they live, to have access to short-term comprehensive behavioral health crisis stabilization close to home 24 hours per day, seven days a week,” Gill said.  “This will also take pressure off law enforcement and first responders in our communities who have for a long time been the people responding to behavioral health crises.”

Recently, some police departments across South Dakota have begun employing mental health officers to specifically address behavioral calls. In Sioux Falls, Officer Sarah Van Voorst is the city’s first mental health community resource officer. Her role includes responding to behavioral calls that normally would have been attended by fire and emergency services and helping them find resources in Sioux Falls that fit their needs.

Codington County is another area seeing an increase in mental health-related calls. That’s why the Watertown Police Department brought on its first ever mental health officer, Alexis Buysse, in 2021. Similar to Van Voorst, Buysse is trained to respond to mental health crises in Watertown and refer them to resources such as the Human Service Agency.

The Human Service Agency is one of the three locations receiving funds from the DSS to expand its facility.

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