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Dakota Counseling paves way for year-round crisis center on way to Mitchell

Daily Republic - 2/2/2024

Feb. 2—MITCHELL — The community is finally getting a 24-hour crisis center.

Roswitha Konz, clinical director at Dakota Counseling Institute in Mitchell, emphasizes the word finally.

Located on the corner of First Avenue and North Rowley Street, a longstanding business in Mitchell has been sold and is in the process of being transformed to help people experiencing a mental health crisis.

There's been a need for such a facility in Mitchell for as long as Konz can remember, since the alternative has been using the local jail instead. It's expected to open as early as this summer thanks to a recently approved $685,000 state grant and will be run by Dakota Counseling.

"It's up to the community how do you handle people who are suicidal, people who want to harm themselves or others because of a mental illness?" Konz said. "Are you as a community OK with shackling them and putting them in jail? Or are you as a community thinking we really need to find a more humane and respectful way to deal with them. We've finally found a way to deal with that crisis issue in a more respectful way."

Construction on the interior of the former Wholesale Electronics building, adjacent to the Mitchell Public Safety Center, should start in the coming weeks, according to Dakota Counseling Executive Director Michelle Carpenter. Wholesale Electronics was owned and operated for 48 years, to the day, by Mel and Karen Pooley.

Konz says planning for a 24-hour crisis center in Mitchell has been ongoing for three decades. Three unsuccessful attempts over the years to finalize a plan for a facility were frustrating. A discussion last spring reignited the possibility.

Grant Lanning, Davison County jail administrator, and Sheriff Steve Harr helped play a major role in the planning. They acknowledged that mental health cases don't belong in the jail, so they organized a meeting with the sheriff, Dakota Counseling officials, Avera and Abbott House representatives and other community stakeholders.

"It's not right for somebody to sit in jail when they're already experiencing a mental health crisis," Konz said.

As the process gained momentum, Konz and Carpenter got in touch with Mitchell resident Jeff Sand, who along with an investment group purchased the Wholesale Electronics building from the Pooleys. Dakota Counseling is in a contract for deed to obtain the building from Sand, who recognized the importance and need for a 24-hour crisis center in Mitchell but declined to be interviewed for this story.

"I don't need to be in the picture," he said in a text message. "Just happy to get this going for our community."

Once the location and the timing was landed, Dakota Counseling requested grant funding with the

South Dakota Division of Behavioral Health

, which contracts with accredited behavioral health providers across the state like Dakota Counseling to provide quality services to both adults and youth.

The request included letters of support from nearby county sheriff's offices, which will now be able to utilize the 24-hour center. The list includes Aurora, Brule, Buffalo, Davison, Douglas, Hanson, Jerauld, McCook, Miner and Sanborn counties.

"Basically, if they have to take somebody to an inpatient hospital, they're looking at going to Sioux Falls or Yankton right now," Carpenter said. "So if we're able to hold them here in Mitchell, that's less taxing on their staff for transportation."

Carpenter received the grant approval on Jan. 11. She immediately told Konz.

The $685,000 grant will help with the brick and mortar remodel, supplies to open the doors and staff training. When doors are ready to be opened, there will be two rooms and four beds available year-round.

Still, Dakota Counseling is looking for help and will be fundraising for the needed $330,000 to open. Community help is a must, Carpenter said.

Dakota Counseling, which is a nonprofit organization, receives city subsidy funding annually, but that number has decreased over time. When Carpenter started 29 years ago, Dakota Counseling received $64,000 per year and had 17 staff members. Today, the group receives $13,000 and has 90 staff members.

"The reality of it is, I hope we can save the county and taxpayer dollars, but I hope they will be willing to reinvest them in the facility that's able to improve it for the people who need it," she said.

Mitchell has seen a spike in qualified mental health professional (QMHP) evaluations since 2019. A QMHP is when someone petitions that a person is a danger to themselves and Dakota Counseling professionals sign a legal affidavit that says the person in danger meets the criteria to receive support.

Konz pointed to a graph that showed Dakota Counseling had 101 QMHPs in 2018, 127 in 2020 and 135 in 2021, just after the COVID-19 pandemic hit. In 2022, the number was 123 and last year was 127.

She said the pandemic was traumatic for young people and adults, and "now we're seeing the consequences of that." Young people are learning how to conduct relationships and deal with disappointment, she said, while adults struggle with anxiety and depression.

Carpenter and Konz said the facility will be utilized on average for one to three days per person. It will have a calming room to help de-escalate situations and will have specialized equipment that's ligature proof, which ensures there is nothing a person can break for using to cut or harm themselves. Five to seven new jobs are expected, Carpenter said. And, the location couldn't be better next to the public safety center, keeping medical personnel and police close by if the need arises.

"The pieces fell together," Carpenter said. "It couldn't have been any better."

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