JAMESTOWN, N.D. — Mental health facilities across North Dakota have between 295 and 350 residential patient beds offering varying levels of care, according to Rosalie Etherington, superintendent of the North Dakota State Hospital. But the need is higher, she told the North Dakota Legislature’s Human Service Committee Tuesday.

“That’s quite a few,” she said about the number of patient beds. “But it is not necessarily meeting the need.”

Etherington said that in some cases, finding a facility that has the space to provide the necessary treatment may be difficult. The State Hospital has not been full to capacity in the past five or six months and commonly serves as the facility of last resort for patients in need of mental health care.

Andrew Frobig, administrator of the Cass County Jail, said in some cases, prisoners in need of mental health treatment were transported from Fargo to Minot because it was the closest treatment facility with available space that met patients’ needs.

Frobig said those situations can result in multiple trips for law enforcement officers between Fargo and Minot to transport the patient to court hearings and back to the treatment facility.

Making it mandatory for mental health hearings to be held in the court where the person is being treated rather than the county where the person lived when the problem occurred could alleviate this problem, he said.

Frobig also said problems exist arranging treatment for people with moderate mental health problems who may have committed a crime.

“There is a huge gap (in treatment) between minor mental health needs and having to be committed to the State Hospital,” he said.

Jake Rodenbiker, state’s attorney for McKenzie County, said transporting people with mental health problems is a bigger problem for areas with smaller populations.

“It is a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Watford City to anywhere there is treatment,” he said. “That puts a deputy on the road for most of a shift or adds to overtime.”

Rodenbiker said the state could reimburse the counties for transportation costs through an increase in fines for speeding and other traffic violations.

Rodenbiker also said greater use of interactive video for patient screening could save time, especially in towns that do not have a regional human services center.

About one in six North Dakota residents over the age of 18 has some sort of mental illness and one in 20 has serious mental health problems, according to Pam Sagness, director of behavioral health services for the North Dakota Department of Human Services.