An interim Legislative committee will continue a study of behavioral health services in North Dakota.
In the previous interim, a consultant issued a report about how North Dakota handles services for mental illness and substance abuse. The Schulte report was the basis for some bills passed in the 2015 Legislature – but advocates say there’s more work to do.
"You don't change an infrastructure like behavioral health services in two years," said Rep. Kathy Hogan (D-Fargo), who will chair the interim committee. "This is a very long-term challenge."
Hogan says there are too many people with mental health issues in jail. She says many call 911 and get an ambulance.
"We have people receiving service in inappropriate ways," said Hogan. "We can address it in North Dakota."
Hogan says the Schulte report did get lawmakers – and the public – engaged in the issue.
"One of our first steps is going to be to say, okay, what are the needs," said Department of Human Services Director of Behavioral Health Pamela Sagness. "Let's look at the data."
Sagness said sometimes, things are situational, or regional.
"For example, transportation might be a significant issue in a rural area, but not in another area," said Sagness. "We have to identify what problems exist where, and what the potential solutions are. But we also want effective solutions."
Sagness says she’d also like to see more of a focus put on prevention.
"Our systems have historically been heavily focused on treatment and recovery," said Sagness. "But there is a lot of opportunity for us to grow prevention and early intervention services, and hopefully decrease the need for treatment."
"We're going to build an infrastructure of care for those individuals," said Hogan. "It's a big, big challenge."