Seven programs that provide outstanding service to human services clients across Minnesota were honored in December. In one of her last acts as Minnesota Department of Human Services Commissioner in December, Lucinda Jesson honored programs with the 2015 Commissioner’s Circle of Excellence Awards. Lt. Gov. Tina Smith joined Jesson in honoring the awardees at a ceremony at the Elmer L. Andersen Human Services Building in St. Paul. Jesson was recently appointed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
This is the fifth year for the awards program. Jesson said winners share the department’s commitment to supporting healthy people, stable families and strong communities. “These organizations are making a true difference in the lives of the people they serve. They improve the quality of life for those suffering with dementia, find caring families for children awaiting adoption and keep together families struggling with addiction, employ people with disabilities, help struggling Minnesotans achieve economic stability and improve health care and mental health services through innovation and integration,” she said. “They represent the very best of many successful partnerships to help people live in dignity and achieve their highest potential, and exemplify all of the great human services work happening across Minnesota.”
Three award winners work with people with disabilities or elders. One winner is Zumbro Valley Health Center, an organization in Rochester that helps people with addiction disorders, mental illness or co-occurring conditions lead more healthy, productive and self-sufficient lives. For nearly 50 years, Zumbro Valley Health Center has worked to improve the health of people in southeast Minnesota regardless of their ability to pay. The organization enhances the quality of life for individuals through an integrated model of care providing not only behavioral health services but medical, dental and community support services as well. Last year, staff served almost 4,500 people, the overwhelming majority of whom were from under-served populations.
Another honoree is Central Converting, Inc., a small, family-owned materials converting and plastic recycling business in the Brainerd Lakes area that provides integrated employment opportunities for people with disabilities. For the past two years, Central Converting has worked with Quality Enterprises, a state vocational program, to employ people with disabilities. A crew from Quality Enterprises assists the company with its recycling projects, including helping divert more than two million pounds of plastic from landfills each year.
A third is Ecumen Awakenings, an integrated, holistic care approach for patients with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. The program is offered throughout across Minnesota. It emphasizes human connections and non-pharmaceutical therapies. The program, which started in 2010 to alleviate the use of psychotropic and other highly sedating drugs, has fundamentally changed the culture of care in Ecumen skilled nursing facilities though collaboration of the entire nursing home care team with physicians, pharmacists, residents and their families. Currently, Awakenings is being implemented in Ecumen assisted living communities. The program has dramatically decreased the dosages or discontinued use of psychotropic medications and improved residents’ quality of life.
Four other agencies were also honored. Southern Prairie Community Care, a collaboration of 12 counties in southwestern Minnesota works toward integrated community services and supports that improve local health care delivery, lower costs, and foster good health for everyone in the region. Southern Prairie Community Care counties share a vision to improve the quality of life for their residents. They also share higher than average rates of poverty, obesity, diabetes, and other health indicators.
Kid Connection, a weekly segment on lifestyle show Twin Cities Live, brings awareness to Minnesota’s children waiting for adoption. Every Thursday, Twin Cities Live’s Kelli Hanson takes a Minnesota child looking for a permanent home on a life-changing adventure, to bring awareness to Minnesota’s waiting children and give them a fun experience that will bring out each child’s personality.
Community Action Duluth is an organization that empowers and engages its community to eliminate poverty, and create prosperity and equity. It assists people with low incomes develop assets that they can leverage to get out of poverty. It provides opportunities to develop a variety of assets that are needed in order to make a positive transition.
Pregnant Native American’s Opioid Addiction Services Collaboration, a partnership of front-line care providers in Hennepin County, goes beyond organizational boundaries to provide highly effective care to pregnant Native American women affected by opioid addiction. Partners include staff at the Indian Health Board, Hennepin County Medical Center and Hennepin County’s Project CHILD. They work together to fill gaps in the health care system.
Tamarack, Vinland mark anniversaries
“’Human engineering’ earmarks new firm” was the headline in the November 1990 issue of Access Press, when Tamarack Habilitation Technologies got its start. The article described how company founder Marty Carlson made the leap from what was then Gillette Children’s Hospital to start his own firm.
Carlson enjoyed his work at Gillette but knew there was more to be done to help people with disabilities Carlson, then and now, is described as a “people person,” using his engineering skills to help others. His family’s company has helped many people lead better, more independent lives. The company, which is based in Blaine, opened its doors in autumn 1990 as a full-service orthotic, prosthetic, rehab engineering facility. Tamarack’s founding professionals were Dave Harris, Catherine Voss, Mark Payette, Dianne Goodwin and Marty Carlson.
Though small in employee numbers, Tamarack stands tall in product design and service for people with disabilities. The company is known world-wide in the orthotic and prosthetic marketplace for developing the “Tamarack”, a line of free motion and dorsiflexion assist ankle joints as well as ShearBan® low-friction interfaces, fabrication tools and a wide range of journal publications related to orthotic design. It has many other products to its credit.
At the end of the 1990s, the patient care portion of Tamarack Habilitation Technologies was split off and turned over to a local hospital system. In 2000 Tamarack moved operations to its current Blaine location. The company also completed its restructuring as a research, development and manufacturing firm for all Tamarack product lines.
Tamarack continues as a developer and manufacturer of components and materials for orthotic, prosthetic and pedorthic care professionals. Tamarack has enjoyed success with products which enhance the reliability and
range of solutions for clients with disabilities. Read more here.
Vinland National Center’s chemical health program is also celebrating its 25-year anniversary. The program began in 1990 after Vinland recognized a need for specialized services for individuals with disabilities. It has steadily grown and has established itself a a premier program in the region, helping people with a wide range of cognitive disabilities.
Vinland was founded in Loretto with a bicentennial gift to the United States from the Kingdom of Norway. It originally was planned as a comprehensive health/sports facility for people with various disabilities, and modeled after Beitostolen Helsesportsenter in Norway. A 1991 Access Press article described the philosophy behind Vinland and how it was run by volunteers.
When Vinland began offering chemical health services for adults with brain injuries in 1990, no other organization provided a similar type of specialized service. Thanks to advancements in medical technology during the 1980s, survival rates for traumatic brain injury (TBI) patients had more than doubled. Services were evolving and expanding to meet the growing demands of this population. Research showed alcohol and drug use was involved with roughly 50 percent of traumatic brain injury accidents, and of those cases 50 percent of the people involved had a previous history of substance abuse. Vinland was able to address the challenges TBI survivors face and help them with long-term sobriety.
Vinland has added an array of services over the years. In 1997 Vinland expanded into long-term supportive housing for chemically dependent people with disabilities. In 1998 the first Vinland LivingWorks Lodge—a permanent, community-based residence for chemically dependent people with cognitive disabilities—opened in the Twin Cities in collaboration with Tasks Unlimited, a nonprofit provider of housing and employment services for people with disabilities. Vinland has partnered with other agencies including Courage Center (now Courage Kenny) to help people find the services and support they need. Read more here.
Law practice helps deaf patrons
Heather Gilbert, a 2012 graduate of the William Mitchell College of Law, has combined her skills in American Sign Language with her law degree, to create a thriving Roseville law firm. Gilbert is believed to be the only private practice attorney in the state who is also a court-certified sign language interpreter.
Gilbert began the process of combining sign language and the law in 2002, when she earned an undergraduate degree in ASL. That led to a number of jobs, including interpreting for Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and the Minnesota Legislature.
While taking law classes, Gilbert also worked as a sign language interpreter for Minnesota’s district court system. “I visited half of all of the 87 counties in Minnesota, interpreting court matters for deaf people, before I started practicing law,” she said. It became obvious to Gilbert that the state needed more lawyers to work directly with deaf and hard of hearing people. “I could see there was a need for deaf discrimination representation,” she said. “There was a need for criminal law, criminal defense, and family law.”
Shortly after receiving her license to practice law in May 2012, Gilbert began working with her first deaf client.
Word of Gilbert’s work spread in the deaf community, and within a few months, she had enough clients to start her own firm. Today 80 percent of her clients are deaf or hard of hearing. Many of the cases involve work discrimination, or the right to access interpreters under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Gilbert’s firm also works with the deaf community on family law issues and estate planning.
When Gilbert was ready to grow her practice, she turned to Mitchell’s Externship Program, which offers students real world legal experience in the workplace. She hired 2015 graduate Terra Frazier while Frazier was still in her first year of law school. “I didn’t even consider there would be this niche of needs for clients who know American Sign Language,” Frazier said. “It was really a unique, and special opportunity to find each other.”
Once Frazier graduated, passed the bar, and received her license to practice in fall 2015, she was hired as the firm’s first associate attorney.
This was excerpted from a Hamline Mitchell College of Law news account. Mitchell has merged with the Hamline University law school.
Rosen honored with award
Sen. Julie Rosen (R-Fairmont) was honored in December with a 2015 ARRM Leadership Award. The presentation ceremony at the Red Rock Center in Fairmont recognized Rosen for her ongoing dedication to supporting people with disabilities across the state.
ARRM CEO Bruce Nelson presented the award and commended Rosen for her coordination with fellow legislators across the aisle. He said that her expertise was instrumental in passing recent regulatory reforms designed to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities across the state. “People with disabilities, their caregivers and providers are lucky to have Senator Rosen as our champion in St. Paul. Our state is a much better place for Minnesotans with disabilities because of Julie Rosen,” Nelson said.
In her acceptance speech to more than 40 area disability service leaders, individuals with disabilities and their family members, Rosen pledged to continue her efforts to improve care for individuals with disabilities. She said that she was deeply touched by the award.
At the event, Chad Brandt sang a holiday song and played a harmonica at the event. He lives in the area and receives disability services from REM Heartland.
Local disability providers also presented a plaque to Rep. Bob Gunther (R – Fairmont) and thanked him for his contributions to services for people with disabilities.
The ARRM Leadership Award was created more than a decade ago to recognize innovative leaders in the public and private sectors whose advocacy work has significantly impacted Minnesotans with disabilities.