Congressional bill aims to increase psychiatric beds through regulatory reform

In Minnesota, and across the country, a lack of psychiatric beds is straining the system. Emergency rooms are overwhelmed, and families are left with very few options.

This week, U.S. Congressman Tom Emmer (R-MN) along with Ritchie Torres (D-NY) introduced a bipartisan bill that aims to alleviate the bed shortage by targeting regulatory barriers.

If passed, the Securing Facilities for Mental Health Services Act would allow inpatient psychiatric hospitals to receive mortgage assistance. Currently, these are the only type of healthcare facility prevented from accessing this type of mortgage assistance as outlined in section 242 of the National Housing Act.

Emmer believes that by eliminating this regulatory barrier, it will give healthcare providers the financial incentive to develop and expand.

"It’s a complex issue but you’ve got to start picking away one piece at a time and I think this is a good starting point," said Rep. Emmer. "This has the support of providers, it has the support of patient advocates who deal with the problem every day, and the bill eliminates a barrier that currently hinders mental healthcare facilities from developing and expanding."

80% of Minnesota counties have a shortage of mental health services, as the lack of psychiatric beds has become an urgent and growing problem since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

CentraCare health system which serves patients around greater Minnesota, has one of only two EmPATH units in the state. It was only able to build the mental health emergency care unit through a charitable trust. Hospital administrators say even with a specialty unit, they feel the impact of the crisis.

"The challenge is finding the next safest place for an individual to go," said the Vice President for Ambulatory Care at CentraCare Ryan Engdahl. "Discharge options are limited and challenging."

Rep. Emmer said inpatient psychiatric hospitals were excluded from the mortgage assistance program because of the abuses patients suffered in the hospitals in the mid-1900s. He says with the current crisis, it's time to amend the law.

"In my opinion, this is the beginning. We’re building momentum," said Rep. Emmer. "It's really important to our country that we start to deal with this crisis."