Sheriffs from at least three counties in Minnesota are calling on the Department of Human Services to shoulder more of the cost of a growing mental health crisis in jails across the state.
A review of invoices sent to DHS by 5 INVESTIGATIONS reveals the agency was billed for more than $60,000 related to housing inmates who waited weeks and months to be transported to a state hospital for mental health treatment.
Minnesota law gives DHS 48 hours to find a bed for someone after a court finds them incompetent and orders them committed to a state facility.
Judges, lawyers and family members have recently criticized DHS for repeatedly violating what is known as the “48 Hour Law.”
This year alone, Blue Earth County Sheriff Brad Peterson billed DHS four times for inmates who stayed in his jail weeks after being civilly committed to treatment.
“When they are committed by the courts as mentally ill, I personally no longer call them ‘prisoners’ at that point. I call them patients,” Peterson said. “And if they are ‘patients,’ they are not prisoners and should not be in our prisons.”
Brown County Sheriff Jason Seidl also sent more than $25,000 worth of bills to DHS this year.
A summary of receipts from Clay County shows it billed DHS $21,240 for housing eight people over the past two years.
“We would send a bill if we kept someone else. If we house an inmate for another county, we’ll bill that county,” Seidl said. “The medical transports, the medications, the added time and the cuts we have to make for those individuals. It all adds up.”
But so far, DHS, the largest state agency in Minnesota, refuses to pay.
Multiple denial letters sent to sheriffs like Peterson and Seidl say “there is no provision in state law that allows or requires the Department of Human Services to reimburse jails” for people awaiting transfer to a state hospital.
In a statement to 5 INVESTIGATES, DHS added that it does not have the capacity to admit everyone who needs treatment right away.
This week, the agency said it had 62 people on its “priority admissions” waiting list.
“We recognize and understand the frustration that sheriffs are feeling and are open to finding creative solutions,” a DHS spokesperson wrote.
In recent court hearings, attorneys for DHS suggested that the clock on the 48-hour law only starts once an “appropriate medical bed” becomes available, but a judge rejected those arguments and ordered DHS to take immediate action.
Some mental health advocates have also called on counties to provide better mental health care to inmates waiting in jails, but sheriffs say they are not equipped to provide the same level of staffing or care as mental hospitals. state.
“They can push this to the sheriff’s office and the jail saying we have to take care of them too, but the state isn’t taking care of them,” Seidl said. “It’s the last game and they’re not paying their bills either.”