Regional News in Review – April 2012

Head of state hospital fired David Proffitt, the embattled director of the crisis-ridden Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter, was […]

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Head of state hospital fired

David Proffitt, the embattled director of the crisis-ridden Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter, was fired March 20 by state officials. Since the hiring more details have emerged about difficulties Proffitt had at his previous job in Maine.

The firing comes as state lawmakers and Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) officials are increasing scrutiny of the hospital, which is one of several programs housed at the St. Peter facility. Officials are concerned about use of restrains and seclusion at the facility.

DHS Commissioner Lucinda Jesson ordered the dismissal just seven months after she had hired Proffitt to institute reforms at the hospital that cares for nearly 400 of the state’s most dangerous and mentally-ill patients. “He was unable to build the level of trust with staff needed to foster the environment necessary for the very significant changes that need to occur,” Said Anne Barry, assistant commissioner of the Department of Human Services. “It’s no surprise that there is real disappointment. David had high hopes and dreams of what he could do at the facility.” Proffitt reportedly will work as a consultant to the agency for several months.

DHS officials said Proffitt’s confrontational style contributed to the resignations or firings of six psychiatrists since he was hired in September. Poor communications skills were also an issue. The problems snowballed several months ago when Proffitt fired a psychiatrist and nurse over their allegedly forcing a violent man into seclusion after he reportedly threatened to kill the nurse.

In January, hospital psychiatrists and nurses filed formal complaints with DHS alleging that Proffitt had yelled and contributed a hostile work environment. Although an investigation didn’t substantiate those allegations, state officials said a change of leadership is needed.

Proffitt has been replaced by Carol Olson, who was administrator of the Community Behavioral Health Hospitals in Rochester and St. Peter. She has more than 25 years experience in adult mental health services. Dr. Steven Pratt will be the hospital’s medical director. Barry said they will have to rebuild the psychiatric staff, hiring at least three doctors and possibly more clinical nurses. [Source: Star Tribune]

Concussions take her out of the game

A St. Paul athlete who was competing at a world class level is now making a move after repeated concussions finally took her out of the game. For 25 years, sports such as basketball, volleyball and track were always a part of Cindy Ellis’ life.

So were concussions. Ellis said, “I know I’ve had at least 10.” But no one, coaches or players, talked about them. And so she didn’t take them seriously. Ellis said she suffered many symptoms, including exhaustion, dizziness, headaches and moodiness. Her last concussion came when she was playing in the 2006 U.S.A. Women’s Bandy World Championships, a sport combining elements of hockey and soccer. Ellis said, “I had gotten hit in the head and dislocated my jaw.” 

She said she went back into that game 10 minutes later and played two more games. But two days later, when Ellis woke up, she couldn’t lift her arm. She knew something was seriously wrong. Eventually movement came back. Ellis then came to realize just how much damage her concussions had done. When she went back to work, she couldn’t complete simple tasks.

Now, permanently disabled, Ellis no longer has a job. She does maintain a small apartment complex she owns and has mentored others through the Brain Injury Association of Minnesota. But the loud sounds of city life have her moving permanently to her Montana cabin next month.

When she dies, Ellis said she is donating her brain to science. Ellis hopes by studying her brain, it will help researchers better understand just what concussions can do to people. The report was part of a project KARE-11 News recently aired on concussions and sports. [Source: KARE-11]

Homeless veterans to get help

U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki have announced that HUD will provide $756,343 to public housing agencies in Minnesota to supply permanent housing and case management for more than 115 homeless veterans in the state. Many of the veterans have cognitive and physical disabilities.

The permanent supportive housing assistance is provided through HUD’s Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program (HUD-VASH), a program administered by HUD, VA, and local housing agencies across the country. In Minnesota, projects will be in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth and Mankato. There will be 115 housing units created, at a cost of $756,343.

“It’s a national disgrace that one out of every six men and women in our shelters once wore a uniform to serve our country,” said HUD Secretary Donovan. “But we know that by providing housing assistance and case management services, we can significantly reduce the number of veterans living on our streets. Working together, HUD, VA and local housing agenhomelessness once and for all.”

“Under the leadership of President Obama, we have made significant progress in the fight to end homelessness among veterans, but more work remains,” said VA Secretary Shinseki. “The partnership between the federal government and community agencies across the country has strengthened all of our efforts to honor our veterans and keep us on track to prevent and eliminate veteran homelessness by 2015.”

This funding to local housing agencies is part of the Obama Administration’s commitment to end Veteran and long-term chronic homelessness by 2015. The grants announced today are part of $75 million appropriated for Fiscal Year 2012 to support the housing needs of approximately 10,500 homeless veterans. VA Medical Centers (VAMC) provide supportive services and case management to eligible homeless veterans. This is the first of two rounds of the 2012 HUD-VASH funding. HUD expects to announce the remaining funding by the end of this summer. [Source: HUD, VA]

Autism rates are increasing

One child out of 88 is believed to have autism or a related disorder, an increase in the rate attributed largely to wider screening. Advocacy groups said this is further evidence that autism research and services should get more attention.

The previous estimate was 1 in 110. The new figure is from the latest in a series of studies that have steadily raised the government’s autism estimate. This new number means autism is nearly twice as common as officials said it was only five years ago, and likely affects roughly 1 million U.S. children and teens. 

“Autism is now officially becoming an epidemic in the United States,” said Mark Roithmayr, president of Autism Speaks, at a news conference where the new figures were released March 29.

Health officials attribute the increase largely to better recognition of cases, through wider screening and better diagnosis. But the search for the cause of autism is really only beginning, and officials acknowledge that other factors may be helping to drive up the numbers. For decades, the diagnosis was given only to kids with severe language, intellectual and social impairments and unusual, repetitious behaviors. But the definition of the disorder has gradually expanded, so that now “autism” is also shorthand for a group of milder, related conditions, including Asperger’s syndrome.

Meanwhile, there’s been an explosion in autism-related treatment and services for children. In 1990, Congress added autism as a separate disability category to a federal law that guarantees special education services. School districts have been building up autism-addressing programs since.

The CDC study is considered the most comprehensive U.S. investigation of autism prevalence to date. Researchers gathered data from areas in 14 states—Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah and Wisconsin. [Source: Pioneer Press]

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