Dakota County officials will hear feedback on a proposed mental health crisis and recovery center in West St. Paul at a community engagement meeting Thursday. The West St. Paul city council will vote on the project on Dec. 12.
Some residents have expressed concerns about transparency and neighborhood safety after learning more about the project in recent weeks.
Owned by Dakota County and operated by mental health service provider Guild, the proposed facility would provide 16 beds for both intensive and short-term mental health care at 1740 Livingston Avenue.
If it is approved by the West St. Paul city council, it will be up to the Dakota County Board to discuss and vote on the project’s future. The project’s state funding stream requires that the new facility be operational by the end of 2024.
The proposed center
The proposed center intends to replace Guild South Services in South St. Paul, which operates out of three houses that lack accessibility and privacy, said Emily Schug, Dakota County deputy director of social services.
The new location would be designed similarly to Guild’s existing crisis and recovery center in Savage, offering clients individual bedrooms and bathrooms and creating a “calm, warm and welcoming environment that will not further traumatize people,” according to Dakota County’s website.
The center, unlike the Savage facility, also would offer on-site assessments and support for anyone seeking mental health services.
Clients are admitted on a voluntary basis through either Intensive Residential Treatment Services (IRTS) or Crisis Residential Services (CRS). Those in IRTS can stay for up to 90 days and are provided with a treatment and recovery plan to avoid hospitalization and eventually return to independent living, while CRS is for those in mental health crisis who need a place to re-stabilize for up to 10 days.
While Schug said the total cost of the project remains undetermined, $3.4 million will come from state bonding, $2.5 million from Dakota County’s American Rescue Plan funding, $1.5 million in other state funding and $750,000 from partner contributions, according to the county’s website.
Mark Drake, who lives about 500 feet from the crisis and recovery center’s proposed location, said he learned about the proposed facility two weeks ago from one of his neighbors and thinks the county did a poor job communicating the project development.
As required by a city ordinance, letters with information about the project were sent to those who lived 350 feet or closer to the location of the proposed facility, according to West St. Paul Council Member Julie Eastman. Drake said the lack of communication about the proposed facility to those living outside that boundary signaled a lack of transparency from those developing the project.
“It’s pretty surprising and pretty disheartening that the city and county just did the bare minimum here in terms of the notice,” said Drake. “I think clearly that was by design, which is disappointing.”
Eastman said the city and Dakota County also posted information about community engagement events on social media. However, after hearing resident feedback, she said in the future, the city may pursue other strategies to inform residents of important projects.
West St. Paul residents, including Drake, have shown up at recent project meetings to express concerns about potential safety risks to those living near the proposed facility if the project moves forward. Drake said he and other West St. Paul residents feel uncomfortable with the facility’s potential intake of clients with severe mental health issues or criminal histories.
“Everybody in the neighborhood has great compassion for those with severe mental illness,” said Drake. “But when people are off their meds, and people are in crisis, they’re often not thinking clearly. So it’s concerning when we have elderly people who are frail and a lot of young kids in the neighborhood.”
Guild CEO Julie Bluhm said people are not admitted to their mental health facilities if they are assessed to be a danger to themselves or others. She said Guild works with local officials to ensure they follow all laws necessary when admitting people with criminal histories to their mental health facilities.
“We believe that our community is safer when everyone gets the help and services that they need when they need them,” said Bluhm. “When someone comes to us, our clinical staff has to ask, ‘Is this someone that we feel can be safe in our therapeutic environment, around other clients?’”
Drake said he is also concerned about Guild’s conduct after learning of a lawsuit filed last year against the company by a former employee, who claimed she was told to continue working with a client after he threatened and harassed her. The lawsuit was settled, and Bluhm said the situation was corrected within four days of the incident.
Drake helped other West St. Paul residents create a website to outline their concerns about the proposed facility.
The Thursday meeting with Dakota County officials and representatives from Guild will be at 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Dakota County Northern Service Center in West St. Paul.
For updated information about the proposed facility and meetings discussing the project, visit the project webpage.