Youth Mental Health Facility Opens in East Bethel



The ceremonial ribbon-cutting at the grand opening of the East Bethel youth mental health facility, now under new management by Nexus Family Healing.

A ceremonial ribbon cutting was held at the Nexus-East Bethel Family Healing psychiatric facility for youth, which opened its doors on November 29.The space offers supportive community housing for longer-term mental health services for children aged 10 to 19.

Space at the East Bethel facility

At the November 8 event, Nexus Family Healing CEO Dr. Michelle Murray said: “What we need to do now is take this building and do with it what it is intended to do. We need to serve the most critical youth and their families, and get them out of inpatient hospitals where there is a backlog. We need to get them out of the police stations. We need to get them out of the county hallways. We need to get them out of those areas that they’re stuck, where they’re not getting needs met, because other people need those services, too. We will take kids who are having complex issues and providing them the services they need and the hope that they need.”

She indicated that the residential services home is one part of a critical care continuum being built in Minnesota. “We will continue to work as partners to find innovative and creative ways to serve our youth and families that need very different specialized care in their communities, in their schools, and other places where they need deep, intensive focus.”

Murray continued, “We need more prevention. We need to offer supports to families when youth are returning home from care. We need more mental health services offered in schools. We need more wraparound services. This is not a placement, it is an intervention. … We have to think of things that we haven’t thought of yet. Addressing the growing mental health crisis in our state, in this country, is going to require strong partnerships, government communities, providers, educators — all of us working together to fill the gaps. We are a huge network of influential people who have expertise, knowledge, and hearts in the work that we’re doing.”

Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan at the opening of the Nexus-East Bethel Family Healing Center, a residential treatment center for youth

Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan spoke as the mother of a 10-year-old. “I am constantly doing my best and constantly winging it,” she said. “Anybody else? We can be honest, right? When families walk in this door, my hope is that people who are shouldering so much can take a full breath. That folks can feel relief and comfort, that they have partners in restoring hope and reshaping futures. The Governor and I, our commissioner [of human services], our legislature, have made it a priority to invest in mental health — coming into the light, out of the shadows, to talk about this real crisis. We hope that what we have done so far has truly meant a down payment on what else needs to be done.”

She noted that Minnesota has had to send too many of its youth to other states for the mental health care they need. “A month, two months being on a waiting list in the life of a child is very, very long.”

Minnesota Commissioner for the Department of Human Services, Jodi Harpstead, said her department estimates that kids facing mental health issues that interfere significantly with home and school affect 9 percent of the state’s youth.

Harpstead said Minnesota needs more psychiatric residential treatment facilities (PRTFs) to serve children with complex mental health conditions. “Rates of depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation and other mental health disorders have overwhelmed hospital emergency rooms with youth who have no appropriate settings [to go to]. Children are crying out to us for help.”

An Anoka county board member, Julie Braastad, said early in her term a resident had called in tears because her child needed to be sent out of state for mental health treatment. “I thought that had to be wrong — there must be someplace in the state. But that mom was exactly right. From that moment on, we have made dealing with mental health issues a priority in this region.”

A 2022 Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that more 90 percent of people in the U.S. recognize that the country has a mental health crisis. A KFF/CNN Mental Health in America survey found that the youngest adults, ages 18-29, both report the most concerns with their mental health and also are more likely to report they are not able to access affordable or local mental health services.

Said Lisette Burton, of the American Association of Children’s Residential Centers: “Some may say they would wish for a world where we wouldn’t need facilities like this. I understand that no one wants to see a young person in crisis or in emotional or medical pain. But I would also like to point out that no one questions the importance of a rehabilitation center to recover from a physical injury. Primary care doctors, urgent care, emergency departments, rehabilitation centers — the same array of services are necessary when it comes to our mental health. And that’s why we have crisis hotlines, mobile response, family supports, and enhanced wraparound services for youth and their family, crisis stabilization centers, and therapeutic residential intervention. To be there when a young person and their family have the most acute crisis.”

She said her cousin died of suicide 11 years ago — “an example of somebody who never got what he needed.”

A pastor at the church in viewing distance of the facility said, “We have been supportive of mental health care in this community before this facility was even built. As people of faith, we believe it’s our calling to care for the most vulnerable among us.”

A mother told the story of knowing early in her son’s life that something was not quite right. Eventually she learned from his birth mother that he had been exposed to in utero trauma. As an advocate for the needs of her child, she said, “I quickly learned we operate in a broken system — a system that doesn’t have enough resources. Underpaid and undervalued employees [face] the worst possible scenarios. … Fighting hard for the right doctors and approval for the right tests finally yielded a diagnosis, which would help us in treatment — yet that wasn’t quite enough. We were twice kicked out of county support. Our house was in crisis. I lived in fear, for myself and for the other children. Although I knew the inherent value and deep loving heart of my son, he had no ability to control his impulses or angry outbursts. Yelling had become the primary means of communication.”

In 2019, they began paperwork and interviews to seek residential placement. In May 2020, he was admitted to a treatment facility hours away, for an undetermined amount of time. “Driving away without my child was the most painful experience in my life,” she said. “I questioned all my choices, and I felt terrible for not being able to do [the work with him] on my own.”

Ten months later, after lots of visits and phone calls to maintain connection, he returned home. “He had grown emotionally and physically right before our eyes. He gained skills that transferred to our home. Now, deep breaths are donated spaces granted when asked for by anyone in the family who needs it.”

Her son spoke as well, saying he was 12 when he went to the facility. There he learned coping skills and developed deep friendships with the staff. He said he made a promise to come back someday and work to help other youth.