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June 8, 2014

Security Hospital can't become a prison

The Department of Human Services and National Alliance on Mental Illness Minnesota have a shared goal — for the Minnesota Security Hospital to effectively treat people with serious mental illnesses in a safe environment, while focusing on each patient’s individual treatment needs. Patients can and do recover and return to their lives, communities and families.

While there are many issues left to address at Security Hospital, let’s not revert to a system that ignores patient rights, best practices and community standards for how people with mental illnesses should be treated.

In his May 30 commentary, Rep. Tony Cornish (R-Good Thunder) argues for an approach that would transform Minnesota Security Hospital into something more closely resembling a prison. Patients, their family members and the people of Minnesota expect better than punishing people for symptoms of their illnesses.

Best practices — methods that have been researched, tested and proven — tell us that engaging with patients and focusing on their individual needs is more effective than the correctional approach Cornish suggests. This includes understanding each patient’s illness, learning the warning signs of aggression, and practicing and mastering techniques for helping the individual calm down. Restraint techniques should be used only when patients are at imminent risk of hurting themselves or others, and even then as minimally as possible.

The Department of Human Services is supporting this approach to treatment with a tidal wave of training for Security Hospital employees and additional management resources. The funding secured in this year’s bonding bill will allow the department to make physical renovations so the building itself will be safer for patients and staff.

We are deeply troubled by recent serious incidents at Security Hospital. The answer is not to go back to the punitive system that led to these problems. Most Security Hospital employees are doing great work every day to change the culture on the St. Peter campus. We all have to keep engaging with patients as they take the central role in their own recovery.

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