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Report shows ‘major service gaps’ in treating North Dakota’s mentally ill

FARGO — Untreated mental illness ending in suicide. Parents giving up their children so they can receive proper psychiatric care.

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Mentally ill adults locked in jail because services are lacking.

Those are among the problems documented by an independent review of behavioral health services in North Dakota that found “major service gaps affecting all, or most, citizens” seeking help.

The preliminary report and recommendations, which will be presented in final draft form to state lawmakers July 22, cataloged a list of significant gaps.

The interim Human Services Committee is expected to offer legislation when lawmakers convene in January.

Although gaps were widespread, service shortages were especially acute in rural areas and in western North Dakota, and of a magnitude the consultant termed a crisis.

Serious problems listed by Schulte Consulting of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, hired by the state for the review, include:

- A lack of psychiatric treatment for youths who are not wards of the state.

- A lack of detoxification beds, often with no options available in rural areas.

- Widespread inability of patients to get appointments for psychological assessments or evaluations, or drug or alcohol assessments, even if court-ordered.

- No clinical assessment beds for youths or adults and a lack of crisis services throughout most of the state.

- A “serious lack” of acute care services for children and youths in the state.

- A lack of providers who can prescribe psychotropic drugs, causing medications to lapse before an appointment opens, “often resulting in ER visits, incarceration and/or suicide attempts.”

- Lack of community-based residential care, transitional housing, treatment and case management for those with severe persistent mental illness and the chronically mentally ill.

- Suicidal tribal youths in some parts of the state are often jailed, sometimes for months at a time, without educational services or mental health interventions.

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