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Legislator cites community care in push to remove N.D. State Hospital from state constitution

FARGO-A state senator wants to see references to the North Dakota State Hospital and its location removed from the North Dakota Constitution.Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, introduced a resolution to strike the reference during a meeting of the Interi...

The North Dakota State Hospital has operated since 1883 and been part of the North Dakota Constitution since 1889. A resolution to remove the reference from the constitution will be considered in the upcoming legislative session. John M. Steiner/The Sun
The North Dakota State Hospital has operated since 1883 and been part of the North Dakota Constitution since 1889. A resolution to remove the reference from the constitution will be considered in the upcoming legislative session. John M. Steiner/Forum News Service
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FARGO-A state senator wants to see references to the North Dakota State Hospital and its location removed from the North Dakota Constitution. Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, introduced a resolution to strike the reference during a meeting of the Interim Human Services Committee in July. The committee approved it on Sept. 20. It now goes to the Legislature's regular session in January. If approved there, it would be put to a vote of the people at the next statewide election.
"North Dakota and its lawmakers harbor an assumption we are doing what we need to do because we have a State Hospital in Jamestown," Mathern said. "We need to deliver services where hospital stays are just a small portion of the services." Sen. John Grabinger, D-Jamestown, said the constitutional mandate for the State Hospital needs to stay in place. "I totally disagree with him (Mathern) on this," Grabinger said. "The State Hospital is centrally located and continues to serve the state well." Sen. Terry Wanzek, R-Jamestown, also supports maintaining a reference to the State Hospital in the North Dakota Constitution. "I understand he's trying to focus on community care," he said, referring to Mathern's proposed resolution. "But I also understand there is still a purpose for the State Hospital." Mathern said the intent of the resolution is to change how North Dakota delivers mental health care but would also address archaic wording in the constitution. The constitution currently specifies "a state hospital for the insane at the city of Jamestown, in the county of Stutsman" exists and that 20,000 acres of the land granted to North Dakota by the U.S. government at the time of statehood be used for the benefit and endowment of the state hospital. "We need to take a broader view and not focus on one institution," Mathern said. "We need to ask, 'What is the system we want to have in place?'" Mathern said one possible way to improve delivery of mental health services would be to combine county social services departments with staff from regional human services centers. "We (now) have a complicated system that needs to be simplified," he said. "This would meet the full range of human needs in one place." Another member of the Human Services Committee, Rep. Dwight Kiefert, R-Valley City, wants to see the State Hospital not only stay in the constitution, but be expanded. "Until we realize we need more services at the institutional level, we're in trouble," he said. "This is a national problem, not just North Dakota." Rep. Tyler Axness, D-Fargo, is vice chairman of the Interim Human Services Committee. He said removing the reference from the constitution would eliminate wording some people find offensive and could give the State Hospital more responsibilities in mental health care in North Dakota. "It could allow us to change the services provided there," Axness said. "It does not mean we would not have a State Hospital. The references in the (North Dakota) Century Code would keep the State Hospital functioning." Grabinger said he sees an expanded role for the State Hospital in the future. "We've seen the value it offers to those with mental health issues," he said. "I'm working to expand the services at the State Hospital as a way to reduce incarceration." Grabinger is a member of an interim committee researching alternatives to prison incarceration for those who break laws in North Dakota. Axness said changes to the mental health delivery system in North Dakota are necessary but require some changes in policy. "It comes down to what our priorities are," he said. "We need to shift some money around and it is going to be tough to sell the Legislature on new programs." Mathern said health care providers don't have special facilities for cancer or heart disease like we do for mental health. He sees eliminating the reference to the State Hospital in the constitution as a step to remedy that. "Eventually, we get to the point we recognize mental health as a problem just like any other health problem," he said.

Related Topics: HEALTHJAMESTOWN
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