Regional News in Review – December 2011

  New health reform website launched The Minnesota Health Care Reform Task Force has launched a new website that will […]

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New health reform website launched

The Minnesota Health Care Reform Task Force has launched a new website that will serve as a clearinghouse for information on Minnesota’s health reform efforts. The website will provide Minnesotans with information on how health reform affects them, their families, and their businesses. It also contains basic facts about health reform in Minnesota, and opportunities to connect to activities in our state. The website was previewed in November at the first meeting of the Minnesota Health Care Reform Task Force.

The website uses the term “health reform” in a way that encompasses policies and partnerships to improve health and lower health care costs. Minnesota has a long history of reform and, most recently, in 2008, passed a state health reform law that improves community health, patient experience and affordability of health care in Minnesota. In 2010, federal health reform (the Affordable Care Act) became law, providing additional tools for Minnesota to cover the uninsured, build the health care workforce, prevent illness and contain health care costs. Throughout the website, the term health reform includes both state and federal laws and policies.

The website is:  [Source: State of Minnesota]



Mental health cuts take a toll

Modest increases in some states’ mental health budgets have done little to erase massive cuts nationwide over the past three years and a reduction in Medicaid funds, according to a report released recently by the nation’s largest mental health advocacy group. The National Alliance on Mental Illness found that 28 states and the District of Columbia have cut nearly $1.7 billion from their mental health budgets since 2009.

Three large states—California, New York and Illinois— collectively accounted for a staggering $1.2 billion in mental health budget cuts since the 2009 fiscal year, according to the report.

Among the other 22 states, mental health budgets increased about $487 million, though the group cautioned that spending was offset by state funding cuts to Medicaid, the largest public payer of mental health care. Medicaid spending wasn’t included in the report, nor was spending that might come from other areas of a state budget. The amount would have been much higher had that been the case. “The system is staggered,” said Mike Fitzpatrick, executive director of National Alliance on Mental Illness. “Many of the services that existed either no longer exist or exist in such small amounts you have decreased services, waiting lists backing up, crowded emergency rooms.”

Cuts are felt nationwide, thanks in part to the expiration in June of $87 billion in federal stimulus money to state Medicaid programs. While most of the states that cut their mental health budgets trimmed by single-percentage-point rates, a number of states slashed funding even more sizably, as much as 39 percent in South Carolina since the 2009 fiscal year. Among the states with the largest cuts were Illinois, which cut funding by 31.7 percent since the 2009 fiscal year; Nevada, which cut by 28.1 percent; and California, which cut by 21.2 percent.  [Source: Associated Press ]


Veterans’ court provides help, hope

Hennepin County Veterans Court is a pilot project in Minnesota that focuses on the unique demands of veterans in the court system. While homecoming parades go on and flags are waved for those who have come home from war, a recently completed report on the first year of this first-in-the-state project shows the lasting effect military service can have on some who have served and come back different. In the past year, the new court has witnessed soldiers accused of drunken driving, domestic assault, terroristic threats, burglary and fleeing police.

When it began in July 2010, court officials expected to see about 50 cases the first year. But in the first 12 months, the court heard more than twice as many cases. Now Ramsey, Washington, and Anoka counties are considering similar programs. The courts are a help for veterans dealing with physical and emotional disabilities.

“It’s up to us who’ve been there to help this new generation,” said John Baker, an attorney and retired Marine gunnery sergeant who led an initiative to start the program. “Ninety-nine percent of the folks put those yellow ribbons on their vehicles and that’s it. You peel back the yellow ribbon and what are they doing?”

One year into the Hennepin pilot program, 71 vets were actively participating in the court and two had graduated. The participants ranged in age from 20 to 64 years old. Of the 71 active participants, 90 percent had chemical abuse or chemical dependency issues. The true test of success will come two or three years down the road, after participants have completed their programs. Statistics compiled by the National Association of Drug Court Professionals show that 70 percent of defendants in specialty courts like the vets court finish their programs, and 75 percent do not reoffend for at least two years.

A key component is that the courts are not a forum for determining guilt or innocence but an entry point for counseling and resources. Offenders can be charged with a misdemeanor, a gross misdemeanor or a felony, provided the charge doesn’t involve a presumption of a prison sentence.

A team of professionals reviews each case. It includes representatives from the county attorney, public defender and probation, as well as people from Veterans Affairs, Minnesota’s Department of Employment and Economic Development and Hennepin County’s Veterans Services office. Part of the process involves a mentoring program through the Metropolitan Center for Independent Living that pairs offenders with volunteers.  [Source: Star Tribune]



New school for EBD students

Journeys Secondary School, St. Paul Public Schools’ new program for students with emotional and behavioral disabilities, (EBDs), is enjoying a good first year. The school, in the former

Open World Learning Community building, merges two EBD programs that school officials say didn’t quite do right by their students. It also now houses the Lab, the district’s 7-year-old program that teaches students to exorcise emotions such as anger, through arts and exercise.

The school wasn’t an instant sell with the district’s board at a time when St. Paul is scaling back other programs, said Dan Wolff, the district’s special-education supervisor. With its 60 students and a staff of 25, including nine teachers, the program is an investment. Statewide, fewer students attend EBD programs like Journeys, completely separate from mainstream programming.

But Principal Hamilton Bell said the program was in keeping with the district’s renewed focus on serving each and every learner: “We are giving our students hope.”

The district used to send students with severe behavioral problems to two rented facilities, including one that shared space with the district’s transportation department. [Source: Pioneer Press]

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