Greater Minnesota needs transit help
Funding for the public transportation system in Greater Minnesota is falling off pace for what it would cost to pay for growing ridership estimates, according to a state report. By 2025, the tax-supported transit system that serves Minnesotans outside the Twin Cities metro area is scheduled to accommodate 17 million outstate rides per year — a 40 percent increase over today’s ridership. The report showed that increases were attributed to an aging population and the millennial generation, which uses alternate forms of transportation more frequently. “As the population of Greater Minnesota grows and ages, the need for public transit also increases,” said Tim Henkel, assistant commissioner for modal planning and program management for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
The updated Greater Minnesota Transit Investment Plan showed that a $10 million annual surplus now would be siphoned off in coming years and could grow into a $120 million funding gap by 2025. The report shows the cost to meet 100 percent of the Greater Minnesota transit need is expected to rise sharply in the coming years.
A key concern is that transit would be reduced for people with disabilities and the elderly. “If they reduce funding then we will have no choice but to reduce service,” said Arrowhead Transit marketing coordinator Larry Rodgers. Arrowhead Transit is based in Gilbert, and offers mostly Dial-A-Ride services to eight surrounding counties, including St. Louis County, while providing more than 600,000 annual rides as of 2016, according to a separate 2017 report.
To view the Greater Minnesota Transit Investment Plan visit online here. (Source: Duluth News-Tribune
Student suspensions are eyed
Students of color and those with disabilities are twice as likely to be suspended or expelled from Minnesota schools than their white peers or students without disabilities, a new study reveals. The statewide analysis, released in March by the state’s Department of Human Rights, showed that students of color accounted for 66 percent of all school suspensions and expulsions in the 2015-16 school year, even though they make up only 31 percent of Minnesota’s student population.
Students with disabilities were involved in 43 percent of all suspensions and expulsions, but make up only 14 percent of the student population.
“For some schools, this information was somewhat surprising; they hadn’t examined this before,” Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsey said. “I’m hoping, by us raising the awareness, it does stay front and center for people in Minnesota. I think there are a lot of folks in the state who want kids to succeed. Hopefully we’ll see the disparities drop.”
The analysis, which the state hadn’t done recently, looked at data from all public K-12 schools and charter schools and reflects a broader trend. A 2016 survey found that nationwide, black students were nearly four times as likely to be suspended and nearly twice as likely to be expelled as white students, while students with disabilities were twice as likely to be suspended.
“There are so many other ways besides kicking kids out,” said Sue Budd, who is with ISAIAH, a faith-based nonprofit that works on racial and economic equity in Minnesota and has advocated against school suspensions. “There’s no silver bullet, but there’s all kind of ways these disparities should be addressed.” (Source: Star Tribune)
New Options has ‘new options’ now
Shakopee-based New Options, the last county-run day training and habilitation program in Minnesota that provides services and employment for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), is now operated by ProAct, Inc. The transition was made earlier this year, due to changes in state and federal policies. ProAct is a major Dakota County-based nonprofit providing a comprehensive array of services in several Minnesota communities, and in western Wisconsin.
“We are thrilled to take on this new responsibility and embrace the opportunity,” said ProAct President and CEO Steven Ditschler. “We have been very intentional and open in the planning and transition and have had good group meetings with the families that are involved.”
The Shakopee facility serves 85 individuals, with an in-center work operation, work crews and activities in the community, as well as therapy, nursing and other services provided. New Options has traditionally attracted people with disabilities who have higher needs. Director Ali Brown said the program has a staff of 21, and is looking to grow. All but two staff members were retained during the merger.
Individuals with disabilities package high-end bicycle parts and do work for a custom rubber fabricator in the Twin Cities, among other jobs. Mobile work crews clean churches and stay busy helping behind the scenes at the Renaissance Festival each year.
The new ProAct affiliate maintains its name and identity, its transportation provider and its facility. A contracted nurse provides care to individuals with higher needs.
About a third of the participants work on projects in-center at New Options. ProAct is planning to offer development services for competitive employment in the coming months to people in the Scott County area. New Options began as a preschool program and grew when the community found that adults, too, needed its services, said Brown. Today, it serves only adults. (Source: ProAct)
Suicide prevention, mental help provided
Minnesotans statewide can now access suicide prevention and mental health crisis texting services 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As of April 1, people who text MN to 741741 will be connected with a trained counselor who will help defuse the crisis and connect the texter to local resources. The service helps people contemplating suicide and facing mental health issues.
Minnesota has had text suicide prevention services since 2011, but they have only been available in 54 of 87 counties, plus tribal nations. Crisis Text Line will offer suicide prevention and education efforts in all Minnesota counties and tribal nations, including, for the first time, the Twin Cities metro area.
“It’s important that we reach people where they are at, and text-based services such as Crisis Text Line are one vital way to do that,” said Human Services Assistant Commissioner Claire Wilson. “It’s especially crucial that we reach youth with these services, and we all know that texting has fast become a preferred way of communication.”
Crisis Text Line, a non-profit that has worked nationally since 2013, is the state’s sole provider for this service as of April 1. Crisis Text Line handles 50,000 messages per month — more than 20 million messages since 2013 — from across the country, connecting people to local resources in their communities. For callers who are in the most distress, the average wait time for a response is only 39 seconds.
Crisis counselors at Crisis Text Line undergo a six-week, 30-hour training program. Supervisors are mental health professionals with either master’s degrees or extensive experience in the field of suicide prevention. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 also provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, as well as prevention and crisis resources. (Source: Minnesota DHS)
App will help law enforcement
An app-based service that helps law enforcement officers interact with people with developmental disabilities, mental illness or dementia. Dakota County recently rolled out the service, which was developed by Vitals Aware Services, a Golden Valley-based tech company, in partnership with the Autism Society of Minnesota.
Over the past two months, about 500 city police officers and sheriff’s deputies have been trained to use Vitals. The county’s park rangers also have the app. The voluntary service was launched in August in St. Paul as a pilot program and has since expanded to Roseville, Chaska, Hopkins and the Three Rivers Park District. People who want the police to know about their conditions, such as autism, diabetes or dementia, wear a “beacon” transmitter. The beacon can take the form of a cellphone, keychain, necklace, debit card or bracelet.
When a Vitals user comes within 80 feet of an officer using the service, the officer will receive a cellphone notification about the person’s diagnosis and how to best interact. (Source: Pioneer Press)
Treatments eyed for cerebral palsy
Neuroscientists at the University of Minnesota are experimenting with technology that could one day help people with cerebral palsy. In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers found that stimulating targeted areas of the brain with a mild electrical current can enhance the motor skills of children with cerebral palsy, which is the most common motor disability in childhood. The findings, published last month, mark the first time that the exploratory procedure known as “transcranial direct current stimulation,” or TDCS, which involves passing an electrical current through the skull and into the brain, was found to be safe with children with cerebral palsy.
“This has the potential to transform lives,” said Bernadette Gillick, principal investigator of the studyand director of a pediatric research lab at the University of Minnesota Medical School.
As part of the study, researchers enrolled 20 people, ages 7 to 21, who had experienced a stroke around or before birth on one side of the brain, resulting in cerebral palsy and limited hand function. The children came from as far away as Florida, Montana and New York, and underwent direct stimulation sessions for 10 consecutive days, combining 20 minutes of electrical stimulation each day with hours of hand exercises.
Researchers attached a rubber headband with sponges and electrodes to the scalp, and then delivered mild currents powered by two, nine-volt batteries. The currents were delivered to the part of the brain that controls hand movement, known as the motor cortex, in the hope that the injured neurons — cells that transmit information — would become more active and exert more control over the affected limb.
The results were overwhelmingly positive: All the children who participated showed some improvement in hand function when the study period ended. Even more significant, the children showed no serious side effects either during the study or during six months of follow-up visits, which suggests that brain stimulation could be a feasible intervention for improving coordination in children with cerebral palsy, researchers said. (Source: Star Tribune)
Energy investments pay off
Investments in energy efficiency are already paying big dividends on the Minnesota Security Hospital campus in St. Peter. State government is saving $161,500 thanks to a one-time rebate from the city’s public utility for installing high-efficiency equipment in new buildings and replacing inefficient lighting in existing facilities on the St. Peter campus. The improvements are projected to reduce annual electricity consumption on the campus by more than 1.5 million kilowatt hours. That’s enough to power 211 average-sized homes in St. Peter for a year. Ongoing annual savings are expected to be $150,000 or more.
“We have to heat, cool and light about 1.3 million square feet on the St. Peter campus. When you have that much real estate, even small steps to improve energy efficiency can make a huge difference in reducing our power consumption and operational costs,” said Carol Olson, the hospital’s executive director.
There are environmental benefits as well. The Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency, which provides power to the city of St. Peter, estimates that the energy-efficiency improvements on campus will reduce greenhouse gas emissions equal to about 243 passenger vehicles each year.
Installing high-efficiency heating and cooling units and advanced lighting controls were part of the $56.3 million phase one expansion of the Security Hospital. In addition, thousands of inefficient lights were replaced in existing buildings.
The $70.2 million second phase of the Security Hospital’s expansion and renovation is now underway and includes similar energy-efficient equipment, which is expected to yield even more rebates and long-term savings. (Source: Minnesota DHS)