Patrick Boyle is deeply committed to providing services and support for people with mental illness. “One person with mental illness who is unsupported can take a whole family down. There is almost no family who doesn’t deal with mental illness no matter what their economic background.”
Since the 1980s, instead of institutionalizing people who have been diagnosed with mental illness, they have been put on the streets with little or no support services and no place to get the help they need. “They end up in the ER or in county jails, neither of which is the right place.”
Changes are being made. St. Louis County is creating pilot programs. There is now a dedicated mental health social worker with the Duluth Police Department. Patrick believes that the ideal solution is to provide regular medical help and reliable supportive housing for these vulnerable people. A specific goal that Patrick is working towards is creating a 24/7 clinic so the mentally ill are not placed in the ER. He is currently working with Essentia and St. Lukes to strategize care for the chronically homeless. The fact that Patrick continues to see these needs in his own practice keeps him grounded as he works toward program and policy changes.
Patrick grew up near Superior, Wisconsin, “in a family in which public service was a way of life.” He struggled to choose between a career in medicine or one in politics, both areas he loves. His father, Frank Boyle, was a politician and Patrick saw how much politics could take time away from family. He decided to go into medicine, which led him to working as a nurse in inner-city Milwaukee where he met Jennifer, then a resident. They married and moved to Duluth, where Patrick is currently employed as a Nurse Practitioner by the Fond du Lac band of Ojibwa.
When Patrick saw Duluth facing tough times—closing libraries and selling park land—he decided to step into politics, to help pursue structures and strategies of “bend but not break.” He is now serving on the St. Louis County Board, where he chairs the Health and Human Services Committee. Thanks to his employer, Patrick is able to work a twelve-hour week, so that he can be active in both worlds: medicine and politics.
Patrick feels he can help lead communities into needed changes for the future. He sees building cooperative partnerships among government entities and with private enterprise as the critical response that is different from the past and will create positive changes. Sharing information, needs, and goals makes cooperative solutions possible—like the Duluth Police Department social worker.
For Patrick, his faith, family and professional life need to go hand in hand. “If one’s faith values and life activities are not aligned properly, all of life goes ‘off track’.” Patrick believes that “a life in medicine or politics requires working with the general public that needs the support of the generosity of spirit that can come from one’s faith values.”
Patrick names two individuals who have been personal sources of courage and action: Paul Wellstone and Steve O’Neil. Paul Wellstone “walked the talk.” He “didn’t care who you were or what you are, Paul Wellstone met you as a human being of value.” Wellstone showed that one could “make the tough decisions and tough votes to make a better future.” From Steve O’Neil, Patrick learned to pay attention to those who don’t have a voice or power and then act to give them the means to voice and power.
Both Paul Wellstone and Steve O’Neil demonstrated a consistency in their values and characters—both in their private lives and in their public lives. They must be the same. This is a commitment that Patrick Boyle shares as he continues his work for change, compassion, and justice.
Interviewed by Jackie Falk