Mental health resources dwindle as the APOLLO Resource Center closes its doors

Funding cuts hit Minnesota's long-standing drop-in center

On a recent morning in St. Paul's Summit-University neighborhood, in the basement of a tall brick apartment building, a few people lounge in the worn leather chairs at the APOLLO Resource Center. The center doesn't have the sterile white aesthetic of a treatment hospital. Billed as a "drop-in center," it's more like a fraternity house for the mentally ill. It's the only mental health drop-in center in all of Ramsey County, and acts as a second home for many of its regulars.

"Hey, you got that 50 bucks you owe me?" asks one, a slender man with graying hair, grinning slyly. "I'm practicing for the carnival."

Around the corner from the lounge area, there's a kitchen where clients take cooking classes and regularly prepare feasts together. Down the hall is a session room where they participate in group therapy and community classes. Next door is a laundry room with space for group meetings and bingo night.

As the only drop-in facility in Ramsey County, the APOLLO center has been a crucial resource for many in the community
Jayme Halbritter
As the only drop-in facility in Ramsey County, the APOLLO center has been a crucial resource for many in the community
The APOLLO center helped Lynne Nerenberg stay on medication
Jayme Halbritter
The APOLLO center helped Lynne Nerenberg stay on medication

Unlike at an inpatient hospital, attendance at the APOLLO is voluntary, and the dozens of people who come through its doors daily run the spectrum of mental illnesses. Some come to attend group sessions for chemical dependency, anger management, or job training classes. Others come simply to socialize with someone experiencing similar inner pain.

"It's some place where you can be that's not home," explains Taz Korlath, a regular. "Some place where you can sit down and talk to people, like a coffee shop."

But the APOLLO center won't be around much longer. In January, Ramsey County announced it would redirect the center's funding to other resources. After more than 36 years, the APOLLO will forever close its doors on May 1. And in these final weeks, the regulars are trying to figure out what they will do when it's gone.

"It's breaking my heart," says Shelly Clater, a client for more than 15 years. "I'm still coming to grips with it."


In the aftermath of mass shootings in Tucson, Newtown, and Accent Signage in Minneapolis, the subject of mental illness has been thrust to the forefront of the political debate, both statewide and nationally. Yet in Minnesota, mental health funds continue to get the axe.

Most recently, DFL lawmakers in the House proposed $150 million in cuts to the Health and Human Services Budget — which funds the state's health care programs, including mental health — a surprising move that has spurred behind-the-scenes turmoil at the Capitol.

"My jaw was on the floor for a whole day after I heard the House target," says Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka. "Nobody saw it coming. None of the advocates. None of the long-term providers."

Surprising as it was, these cuts are nothing new. In 2011, when Republicans ran the show, legislators eliminated $1.2 billion from health and human services, draining millions from mental health resources. Over the past four years, legislators have cut nearly $60 million to programs designed to help people with mental illness, according to data tracked by the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

"I'm sure we'll see more money cut in the mental health system," says Sue Abderholden, executive director of NAMI. "They do it every year."

As a result of these cuts, providers have been forced to sacrifice crucial mental health resources, including the Community Behavioral Health Hospital-Cold Spring and the adult mental health residential facility in Eveleth.

But mentally ill clients don't just disappear when the programs do. They end up entering the system in other ways, such as hospitals and jails, which means losing these facilities ends up costing the state more money in the long term, says Philip Krasowski, a nurse at the psychiatric wing of Hennepin County Medical Center who works as a liaison to civil commitment court.

"You have to be careful where you're headed, because it might drive people to more expensive alternatives, and not be very effective," says Krasowski.

On top of downsizing or eliminating resources, these ongoing budget cuts make it hard to keep on staff for the long haul, says Tom Huntley, D-Duluth, who chairs the Health and Human Services Finance committee in the House.

"Basically, the people that work in nursing homes and long-term care facilities are getting 10 to 11 bucks an hour," says Huntley. "They haven't had raises for a long time, and the result is they can go make more money at McDonald's."

During a monthly group meeting in January, the APOLLO staff broke the news to clients: The facility will continue its independent-living skills program, but funding for the center will be redirected toward a new job placement service.

The move is representative of a trend in mental health funding, says Tim Burkett, CEO of People Inc., the nonprofit that runs APOLLO. As public funds continue to diminish, money frequently goes to programs with "measurable objectives." As a result, organizations like People Inc. are forced to spend more money on accountants to keep the books, and programs with harder-to-quantify success like the APOLLO are disappearing.

"This is the wave of the future, so I can't resist it," says Burkett.

Many of the regulars didn't take the news well, says Katie O'Brien, community support services division head for People Inc. "It's almost like a grieving process," O'Brien says. "There was a whole range of emotions of anger, sadness, frustration, disbelief."

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11 comments
amystor78
amystor78

Too often drugs are forced on people as the only answer, while adequate help with life planning is not done. See Dr. Peter Breggin's work and others that discuss the toxic effects of anti-psychotic drugs. I housed three homeless people for sixth months. I found that their apparent mental illness sympotms went away after 3-5 days with a roof over their heads. But services rush to medicate people, and usually do not help people solve their economic problems, then they are dependeton the system for life.

I tried working with the Department of Rehabilitation Services, but they only referred me to menial jobs that did not pay enough to live on, and did not provide counselling that was geared toward moving me forward. Rather, workers seemed to be trying to diminish me and discourage the pursuit of adequate work. I have heard many other people say the DHS is a joke, and one is better off not wasting time with it.

amystor78
amystor78

Too often drugs are forced on people as the only answer, while adequate help with life planning is not done. See Dr. Peter Breggin's work and others that discuss the toxic effects of anti-psychotic drugs. I housed three homeless people for sixth months. I found that their apparent mental illness sympotms went away after 3-5 days with a roof over their heads. But services rush to medicate people, and usually do not help people solve their economic problems, then they are dependeton the system for life.

I tried working with the Department of Rehabilitation Services, but they only referred me to menial jobs that did not pay enough to live on, and did not provide counselling that was geared toward moving me forward. Rather, workers seemed to be trying to diminish me and discourage the pursuit of adequate work. I have heard many other people say the DHS is a joke, and one is better off not wasting time with it.

amystor78
amystor78

Too often drugs are forced on people as the only answer, while adequate help with life planning is not done. See Dr. Peter Breggin's work and others that discuss the toxic effects of anti-psychotic drugs and alternatives. I housed three homeless people for sixth months. I found that their apparent mental illness sympotms went away after 3-5 days with a roof over their heads. But services rush to medicate people, and usually do not help people solve their economic problems, then they are dependeton the system for life. People are having good results using vitamin therapy instead--see www.truehope.com, a Canadian nonprofit. A nutritional approach has worked for me without the stigmatizing side effects of antipsychotic drugs.

I tried working with the Department of Rehabilitation Services, but they only referred me to menial jobs that did not pay enough to live on, and did not provide counselling that was geared toward moving me forward. Rather, workers seemed to be trying to diminish me and discourage the pursuit of adequate work. I have heard many other people say the DHS is a joke, and one is better off not wasting time with it.

geraldotis
geraldotis

While the mental health services in MN are adversely affected by cuts in funding, the entire system is dysfunctional for non-monetary reasons as well. The court commitment procedure is often flawed by providing slip-shod attorneys for poor clients who do not provide for a "vigorous defence" as required by state law, mental health personnel, including psychiatrists, often operate on the basis of hearsay or simply carry forward diagnoses made by others rather than doing an independent assessment. There is a total reliance on medication rather than attempting to understand a patient's problems. Patients are often dumped into ill-equipped nursing homes with inadequately trained and overworked staff. Guardians do not always advocate for their patient's needs and rights. The provisions of the Patients Bill of Rights are routinely ignored. Oversight agencies do not provide oversight. Ombudsmen are unresponsive to complaints. There needs to be a comprehensive examination and overhaul of the whole court-mental health-residential care system.

tom.evenstad
tom.evenstad

I feel the same way. I believe the MN MEDIA needs to finally call out the MN S CT, Legislature and Governor Dayton on MSOP funding so excellent, needed programs such as this that help people VS torture them can keep their doors open! We need more mental health beds and resources in the community--not less!

tom.evenstad
tom.evenstad

I agree. I was hoping with the Federal Court stepping on the State's neck that somebody--Gov Dayton, Senate Finance Committee would finally reverse course on this Unconstitutional Punitive Prevention Model which is the MSOP, but no Official in MN has the compassion and the courage to transform MSOP into DOC beds and release the HosPrisoners who do not remotely meet real commitment criteria as required by the Constitution and US Supreme Court case law which MN REFUSES TO FOLLOW KNOWING THE CORRUPT BUSH APPOINTEES WILL BACK THEM AT THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT.

brendajhanson
brendajhanson

It is great that there are urgent care centers and hospitals, etc. for emergency situations.  It is sad to see a place close that allowed people to gather and be social with each other and feel safe to do so without being judged by society.  I can't imagine how lonely and isolated mental illness makes a person feel.  It breaks my heart to read that a wonderful facility that works for these people is going to close. 

tom.evenstad
tom.evenstad

This is an outrage that Mental Health Faculties are still being cut to pay for the 75 $ Million Dollar MSOP McTREATMENT HABITRAIL when MSOP doesn't even have the 700+ Worst of worse as they are on the street:

www.MSOPTaskForceInfo.blogspot.com

tom.evenstad
tom.evenstad

It is MSOP that is forcing this closing and many others.

vespa50sp
vespa50sp

MSOP costs are certainly part of it. The state will probably continue to try to find money, including county property tax money, to run it. Health Care/Medical Assistance rolls and costs continue to rise also. I think the state pays 50% of the costs there currently, and health care costs continue to rise at a 5% a year clip (quite low historically). With the population getting older and becoming eligible for medicaid (it pays for nursing homes for the indigent) overall program costs will continue to rise.

On the upside, crime is down so there is room in the jails, and jail cells are relatively cheap compared to MSOP or a Nursing Home (Ok, just sort of kidding)

 
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