Regional News in Review – April 2016

More veterans’ benefits available The Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Social Security Administration […]

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More veterans’ benefits available

The Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Social Security Administration announced a new effort to provide Minnesota’s homeless and at-risk veterans with expanded access to Social Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.

The program is called SOAR, which stands for SSI/SSDI, Outreach, Access and Recovery. It is a nationwide program funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. SOAR helps people with disabilities gain access to SSI and SSDI by identifying people who may be eligible, assisting in preparing high-quality applications, compiling necessary documentation, and supporting individuals throughout the application process. In Minnesota, DHS already collaborates with counties, Tribal governments and non-profit organizations to provide individuals with advocacy and services when applying for SSI/SSDI. Homeless and at-risk veterans in Minnesota will be provided with a personal SOAR advocate to guide them through the federal application process and help alleviate factors which typically lengthen the time needed to determine a disability claim.

“I am proud of the work we have done in Minnesota,” said Veterans’ Commissioner Larry Shellito. “Since 2010 we have cut veteran homelessness in half, something we could only accomplish with help from our valuable partners. Together we can – and will – bring our veterans all the way home.” For information, call 1-888-LinkVet (546-5838) or visit (Source: DHS)


Cameras expose elder abuse

So-called “granny cams” were used to help expose a pattern of abuse at a New Hope nursing home. The Minnesota Department of Health in March released a report detailing a pattern of abuse at Saint Therese of New Hope. The facility and five employees were cited as a result of the abuse incidents, which involved two elderly residents over a period of several months.

An 85-year-old resident with a cognitive disability was punched in the face and stomach repeatedly. The cameras also found employees talking on their personal cellphones instead of providing care.

State investigators also found that facility staff witnessed abuse but didn’t immediately report it, which is a violation of state law.

Reports of abuse surfaced last year but the state report gives the most extensive look at what happened at the facility. Two employees were fired and criminally charged, with another eight fired. The report comes at a time when more reports of maltreatment center on Minnesota nursing homes. The report is seen as highlighting the need for cameras to monitor patient care, especially when patients are unable to speak for themselves.

St. Therese officials have expressed remorse over the incidents and said they are making changes to prevent problems in the future. (Source: Star Tribune)


New statewide mobile mental health crisis services

Mental health crisis services provided in a person’s home will soon be available in all parts of the state through more than $13.6 million in mobile mental health crisis grants recently awarded to local service providers by the Minnesota Department of Human Services. The funding, which includes an additional $3 million provided by the 2015 legislature, makes services available to children and adults in all 87 counties. Although much of Minnesota has had mobile crisis services for years, in large geographic areas of the state these services were not available.

“When people are in crisis, they need the right help right away,” said Human Services Commissioner Emily Johnson Piper. “Mobile mental health crisis services provide that help to people wherever they are. Sometimes people need to go to the hospital, and sometimes other mental health services would be more appropriate. With these grants, mental health teams can offer that flexibility statewide.”

Mobile crisis services are mental health teams who offer psychiatric services to individuals at home and at other locations outside the traditional clinical setting. Research has shown that not only are mobile crisis services effective at keeping people in crisis from needing psychiatric hospitalization, they are also better than hospitalization at linking people in crisis to outpatient services and are effective in finding hard-to-reach individuals.

In 2015, Minnesota had 27 crisis teams available to provide mobile mental health crisis services to adults and children, their families or guardians and supporters. That number will increase to 34 with the new grants. Many areas will have expanded coverage, and several counties that previously were not covered — Kandiyohi, Meeker, Renville, Chippewa, Swift, Lac Qui Parle, and McLeod — will now receive services. Aitkin County will add children’s services. Hours of coverage vary with most teams providing services after hours and weekends.

The increased grant money was included in $46 million in new mental health funding approved by the 2015 legislature for the 2016-2017 biennium.

The grants for mobile crisis are one part of a range of additional crisis services that over the next four years will include increasing the availability of crisis beds and a statewide crisis number. (Source: DHS)


Backpack designed for children with autism

A backpack invented by University of Minnesota students is meant to help children with autism. The Nesel Park has been tested by Twin Cities area students, and has won kudos for its wide straps, weighted pockets, and hooks for chewable items and other sensory toys. The pack is meant to help children with body awareness. Parents said the pack provides the sensory stimulation his child and others need throughout the day.

The packs are undergoing testing. They include a security strap so a parent, teacher or guardian can securely hold children who may become overwhelmed and run away. The packs also have sturdy zippers and a pocket for an ID card.

A Carlson School of Management class redesigned the backpacks, which have won praise for their design. Therapists said the design would be helpful for people of all ages on the autism spectrum. The students have been working with Fraser, a provider of services for people with autism, to develop and promote the backpacks. The backpacks will be on sale at the Fraser Walk for Autism April  16 at Mall of America. Cost is $115. There is also an option to buy and donate a backpack to Fraser’s clinic. (Source: Star Tribune)


Obituary casts light on suicide

A Duluth area family’s desire to speak honestly about a loved one’s suicide has drawn international attention. The Duluth News Tribune obituary for Aletha Meyer Pinnow, 31, of Duluth stated that she “died from depression and suicide on Feb. 20, 2016.” Pinnow was a special education teacher working with students with autism at Duluth’s Stowe Elementary School.

“If the family were to have a big pie in the sky dream, we would ask for a community-wide discussion about mental health and to pull the suffocating demon of depression and suicide into the bright light of day,” the family stated in Pinnow’s obituary. “Please help us break the destructive silence and stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide.”

Aletha left letters for her family saying “‘don’t feel sad, I’m not worth it,’” her sister Eleni said. “That makes me so mad. I’m telling her now that she was so worth it and that she doesn’t know the depths of how much we miss her. Her illness just robbed her of her ability to see that.”

Experts say talking about the issue is the first step toward recovery. But many people remain reluctant to talk because of the stigma. Paul Goossens, a licensed psychologist in Duluth, said the Pinnow obituary breaks new ground toward tearing down that stigma. (Source: Duluth News Tribune)

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