Significant investments in Minnesota Security Hospital improvements and a pay raise for personal care attendants are taking shape. Those efforts are among the many initiatives that took effect July 1. thanks to the 2017 Minnesota Legislature.
The Minnesota Security Hospital improvements were included in the bonding bill and in other human services legislation. Physical changes to make the facility safer, along with more staff, have been a priority in recent years for the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS). The changes were sought after incidents in which employees and patients were assaulted. In 2014 a patient was so badly beaten and stomped upon by a fellow patient, he died.
DHS Commissioner Emily Piper visited St. Peter June 14 to highlight significant investments to complete a major renovation of the hospital and the hiring of almost 150 new employees over the next three years. The changes will improve care and safety for patients and staff at the facility.
“Addressing safety issues for patients and staff at Minnesota Security Hospital is one of my top priorities,” Piper said.
“Given legislators’ attempts to make deep cuts to human services this past session, I’m grateful for Gov. (Mark) Dayton’s leadership to secure funding that will allow us to finish the construction project on this campus and provide the resources to staff the facility at a responsible level and to provide better care for Minnesotans.”
In 2017, Dayton and legislators approved $70.255 million to renovate the hospital and create safer working conditions for employees. Ground will be broken this fall and work will take several months.
The construction will replace outdated living units with poor sightlines and narrow stairways that made it difficult and dangerous for staff to monitor patient activity. New living units will be safer and more therapeutic. The plan also calls for more transitional housing, overall building improvements and physical separation of vulnerable patients from the Minnesota Sex Offender Program population on the St. Peter campus.
An additional $22.85 million was also passed in the 2017 session to increase safety by adding 146 employees. The new personnel will put Minnesota Security Hospital staffing levels closer to those at similar treatment facilities in other states. More staff will also mean reductions in overtime and increased programming for patients on evenings and weekends.
In efforts to fill the first group of 52 full-time equivalent employees in a wide range of jobs, including psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, therapists, dental staff, safety and security staff, and general maintenance workers, DHS will hold a Minnesota Security Hospital
Career Fair in the next few months.
Time, date and location will be announced. In October 2016 Piper and other DHS officials opened the Minnesota Security Hospital opened its new $56 million facilities in St. Peter to the public for a rare tour, to show improvements made thus far. At the time Piper said that the work wasn’t complete and that more funding was needed.
She also pointed out that patients live at the facility eight years on average, so there is a need to make the facility feel as home-like as possible. The Hospital provides evaluation and therapy for about 350 patients deemed by the courts to be mentally ill and dangerous.
Getting the second phase of work done is one priority. Another is hiring. “Even before construction gets underway, we’ll be working hard to fill important medical and nursing positions,” said Piper. “That means identifying the key clinical and direct care positions that we need to fill most immediately and ramping up our recruiting and hiring efforts to ensure we can offer Minnesotans that need our help the best care possible.”
Care workers get raises
On July 1, a new contract went into effect for personal care attendants. Workers and the state of Minnesota reached a new agreement for a union contract that covers approximately 27,000 Minnesota home care workers.
The two sides had to negotiate a new contract and have it presented for a vote after elected officials cut funding in half for the previous tentative agreement, in the final health and human services omnibus bill.
Many disability advocates left the Capitol this spring believing that there would be no pay increase at all. The increases adopted are less than what was sought. Minnesota has about 9,000 caregiver openings. One challenge is that the work pays so poorly.
One key provision negotiated is an additional five percent increase for workers who provide the care for the highest-need clients. High-need is defined as clients who qualify for 12 or more hours per day of in-home care. The Complex Care Coalition worked on that issue.
Other provisions include:
• A $1 an hour increase to the minimum wage for home care workers, putting the new floor at $12, starting Aug. 1.
• Time-and-a-half pay for workers who take care of their clients on five holidays, a benefit no home care workers in the state have had before
• An increase in the amount of paid time off home care workers earn
• Training stipends for 5,000 workers who take voluntary training to build their skills in order to provide higher quality care
• An online matching registry to help address the struggle clients face when trying to find quality care workers to bring into their homes.
SEIU Healthcare Minnesota and union foes led by the Center of the American Experiment have battled over unionization and the latest contract talks. Union leaders have vowed that the fight to restore funding continues in 2018.
“So many good people all across the state worked hard pushing our elected officials to address the care crisis that is harming thousands of families like mine. Home care workers and clients like me negotiated in good faith earlier this year, but at the very end of the legislative session politicians decided to only fund half of what we had agreed to with the state, which is incredibly frustrating,” said Jim Carlisle, a home care client who counts on care for himself and his wife Claudia to be able to stay in their home. “We made some important steps forward in this new agreement, but the crisis in our state is well beyond the point where any half-measures will suffice.”
“This is, without exaggeration, a life or death situation for someone like me who relies on quality caregivers to get out of bed and do basic tasks like eating and leaving my house,” Carlisle continued. “I’m proud we won the gains we did, but we are still a long way from where we need to be. What we’ve proven over the last few months is that we won’t let any attacks or setbacks stop us. We will fight to ensure every person who needs care has access to quality caregivers.”
The Carlisles are considered to be pioneers in self-directed care. The care agency they started, People Enhancing People, recently closed.
Information from DHS and SEIU Healthcare was used in this article.