KYLE KUPHAL - PIPESTONE COUNTY STAR
Minnesota’s District 7 Congresswoman Michelle Fischbach made her first visit to Pipestone County Thursday, Feb. 24 to visit with local officials in the Commissioners’ Room at the Pipestone County Courthouse. About a dozen people, mostly representatives of Pipestone County and the city of Pipestone, attended the gathering.
Fischbach said she came to have a discussion and hear what was on the minds of those in attendance. Several topics were discussed in a wide-ranging discussion that lasted over an hour.
The first topic brought up was the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Pipestone County Administrator Steve Ewing asked if Fischbach could comment on what was happening in the conflict. She said a briefing was scheduled on the topic that afternoon and that at the time she did not know much beyond what was being reported in the news.
“It’s tragic,” Fischbach said. “I think it goes to show that Putin can’t be trusted and he’ll take advantage of our weakness.”
The conversation then turned to topics closer to home, including wind energy and a lack of transmission lines. County Commissioner Dan Wildermuth asked if there was anything Fischbach could do to help with that. She said she would take note of his concern.
Pipestone City Administrator Jeff Jones and Mayor Myron Koets spoke about the shortage of workers and workforce housing and said any effort to address those issues at the federal level would be appreciated.
“We’ve got companies in town that would love to expand,” Jones said. “But they can’t get the employees because we don’t have the houses.”
Fischbach said market rate housing is a “huge issue” and there are ongoing efforts to encourage the creation of more affordable housing.
Pipestone County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Mike Hamann expressed concerns about mental health issues and a lack of facilities to take individuals with mental health needs in this and other rural areas. He said jails and hospitals are not the place for those with mental heath needs.
“We’ve talked locally, the sheriffs have, with state representatives about the old prison in Appleton as a good resource for that to happen,” Hamann said. “For us here, and pretty much everyone who would be really in your district, if there’s anything that can come federally from that side of it, it would be very helpful locally because that is a big complex that’s empty right now and it would be a lot closer. Right now we got to Fargo, Sioux Falls, which is full a lot, or Minneapolis. Sometimes we don’t even find a bed. They just sit here at the hospital for a while, which is again not the place for a person in a mental health crisis.”
Fischbach said there is not enough mental health beds in Minnesota and asked questions about the Appleton facility. One thing that she said could be helpful is if reimbursements were increased to encourage the addition of beds to meet those needs. She also suggested that Hamann talk with one of her aids who was at the gathering, who she referred to as her law enforcement liaison.
“When someone’s having a mental health crisis, we need to be able to address it and have the right kind of facility to take them to other than a hospital bed that isn’t equipped that way or a jail cell,” she said.
Other topics discussed included climate change, the second amendment (which Fischbach said she was a “strong supporter of), the pandemic, healthcare, permitting for CO2 pipelines, redistricting and its effect on the 7th District, the meat industry, the federal gas tax, energy independence, mineral mining, Social Security, prescription drug advertising, economic development, critical access hospital designation and more.
Fischbach took many notes during the conversation and asked several questions to better understand the concerns people shared. As she left, she thanked those in attendance for the conversation and invited them to stay in touch.
“If you think of anything, give us a call, so that we can serve you better,” she said.