Legislative panel looks for ways to strengthen South Dakota’s mental healthcare laws

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The state Office of Rural Health rates all but six of South Dakota’s 66 counties as short on psychiatric service, and two-thirds of licensed counselors and therapists are in nine cities, according to numbers presented Tuesday to one of the Legislature’s mental-health panels.

“We need to think about elegant solutions,” Senator Deb Soholt, a Sioux Falls Republican, said. She chairs the interim committee on leveraging telehealth and telemedicine.

Lawmakers appointed five different panels to work on various mental-health issues before they open the 2020 session January 14.

The committee also heard from Scott Peters, a retired lawyer from Sioux Falls, about his ideas for strengthening South Dakota’s mobile-crisis law. He wrote the original measure in 2009 and saw legislators approve it in 2010.

Soholt said she has worked with Peters on several pieces of legislation. His wife has been a medical doctor for 42 years and he adjudicated mental-illness cases for three decades for Minnehaha County.

Among his suggestions were letting law enforcement officers conduct conferences electronically from mental-health situations in the field and broadening immunity to cover a clinic or hospital. 

Another committee member from thinly-populated northwestern South Dakota, Perkins County Sheriff Kelly Serr, said only larger communities such as Sioux Falls, Rapid City and Yankton have crisis-intervention teams.

Soholt said different task forces’ leaders would begin talking with one another about what they’re finding

“We’re now thinking about a virtual application of that wherever a South Dakota citizen is,” Soholt said about Peters’ electronic-consultation concept.

She suggested members relay the ideas to their groups for consideration. 

The committee looked at a variety of documents Tuesday including a report by its staff showing the shortage of psychiatrists in 60 counties and a report from the state licensing board on locations of 922 counselors and therapists.

Soholt said the panel would consider some draft language and further data at the next meeting. The date wasn’t set.

“I’m hopeful,” said member Susan Kornder, executive director for Northeastern Mental Health Center based at Aberdeen. 

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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