Program’s closure would be harmful to deaf, hard of hearing clients

Program’s closure would be harmful to deaf, hard of hearing clients

Editor’s note: The proposed closing of the Minnesota Substance Use Disorder Program for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Individuals has resulted in a groundswell of opposition. More than 5,600 names and comments are on a petition to health administrators and state lawmakers. This is a letter sent to James Hereford, President/CEO of Fairview Health Services. Debra Guthmann is a national advocate for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. She was also was the program director for the University of Minnesota’s specialized treatment program until 1995. 

The Minnesota Substance Use Disorder Program, established in 1989, is one of the only specialized residential treatment programs serving clients nationally that is linguistically and culturally appropriate to meet the needs of deaf, hard of hearing and deafblind individuals. Closing this program will impact the lives of deaf, hard of hearing and deafblind individuals locally, regionally and nationally. The program is critical, having served more than 1,650 individuals with American Sign Language (ASL)-fluent and culturally competent counselors and staff. More than one third of the 1,650 individuals served are from Minnesota. Because this is a low incidence population, maintaining a program in each state that provides linguistically and culturally appropriate services is not feasible. 

The Minnesota program has set an exemplary model for how this population is best served and at the same time, provides very positive local and national attention for M Health-Fairview. Not only does the Minnesota program provide a much-needed service for deaf and hard of hearing clients, it is considered a model program with clinical approaches that have been developed and used on a national basis. Throughout the United States, when professionals who work with this population think of a model treatment program, the Minnesota program housed at M-Health-Fairview comes to mind. 

I am aware that the Minnesota program faces some funding issues and that M-Health Fairview is undergoing some systemwide changes to address a broader range of financial concerns. However, I strongly encourage you to consider seeking other external sources of funding to keep this program viable. 

Previously, the Minnesota Commission of the Deaf, DeafBlind, and Hard of Hearing indicated that it is willing to submit a request for emergency funding from the state legislature. In addition, funding from SAMSHA has been available in the past and may be available again through a SAMHSA Targeted Population grant or other RFAs. And even though issues with Medicare may pose an obstacle, it would be valuable to initiate a nationwide conversation about how this may be addressed. 

Many people, including members of the deaf community as well as a wide variety of professionals both locally and nationally, are very concerned about the proposed closing of the Minnesota Substance Use Disorder Program for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Individuals. I know that a number of people have expressed their concern and hopefully, those concerns are being heard by you and others in the administration. 

M Health Fairview deserves accolades for the unwavering support over the past 30 years. I would like to see them recognized for that and I would like to see M Health Fairview continue to serve those deaf and hard of hearing individuals suffering from addiction. 

Because of the concerns expressed locally and nationally, an online petition was set up regarding the proposed closing of the Minnesota program. At this point, more than 5,600 people have signed this petition. 

A few of the comments from the petition highlight the importance of keeping the Minnesota Program open: 

“This program saved my bro’s life.” 

“This program has turned the lives of many who attended MN Deaf Drug/Alcohol treatment program. It is possible to help many more.” 

“It is horrifying that this is the only residential program of its kind in the US and that due to funding issues, there has been a long waiting list. There are most likely even more that don’t even make it to the wait list so are not part of the statistics. Please keep this program open and funded to the fullest.” 

“Deaf people need this program! Imagine being Deaf and going to a rehab program and not being able to connect with those around you due to lack of communication access? How helpful would that be to your recovery and overcoming challenges in your life?” 

“Everyone deserves treatment regardless of abilities.” 

“This program is one of a kind in the country. This accessible program designed to meet the needs of deaf and hard of hearing people is not the same as other treatment programs. Deaf and hard of hearing people who go through this accessible program have an increased chance for ongoing recovery compared to going through a program designed for hearing people.” 

I hope that you will reverse your decision to close the Minnesota Substance Use Disorder Program for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Individuals and use this time to work with people locally in the legislature and through other avenues nationally to seek funds that would help support the program. 

Please follow M Health Fairview valuesDignity, Integrity, Service, Compassion and Innovationand develop a plan to keep the Minnesota Substance Use Disorder Program for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Individuals operational. Please follow M Health Fairview values – Dignity, Integrity, Service, Compassion and Innovation – and develop a plan to keep the Minnesota Substance Use Disorder Program for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Individuals operational.