Regional News in Review – February 2017

Human rights offices are proposed Gov. Mark Dayton’s two-year budget plan seeks an additional $2.3 million to add human rights […]

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Human rights offices are proposed

Gov. Mark Dayton’s two-year budget plan seeks an additional $2.3 million to add human rights offices in Rochester, Duluth, and Worthington. Each office would have two employees.

Currently, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights has offices in St. Paul and St. Cloud. The budget would also add a second employee at the St. Cloud office. Commissioner of Human Rights Kevin Lindsey said the department investigates discrimination complaints across the state and wants to boost its presence in Greater Minnesota. “When we take a look at our overall inventory of cases, we have cases throughout the state of Minnesota, and sometimes it’s helpful for people to actually come in and sit down and meet face to face with someone,” Lindsey said.

In 2015, the department completed 619 discrimination investigations and opened 620 new cases. The most common complaint is disability discrimination.

The proposal has met support from various civil rights groups and some legislators. Minority groups in Rochester have been calling for a human rights office in Rochester for some time. Donovan Bailey, who serves on the Third District Equal Justice Committee, said he is thrilled the governor’s budget includes money for a Rochester office.

Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, welcomed the idea of a Rochester human rights office, as does Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester.

But Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said his constituents aren’t telling him there is a need for more human rights offices in the state. “It’s an unnecessary use of public resources. It’s not needed. There are questions about the human rights office as to whether we need them, to begin with,” he said. (Source: Rochester Post-Bulletin)


Donors replace child’s wheelchair

A Becker family is grateful for donations to replace their six-year-old son’s custom-made wheelchair. But the family is unhappy that the original chair belonging to Tyce Sauter may have been stolen.

The chair disappeared from a family vehicle last month. Kristi Sauter, mother of Tyce, said the child needs the wheelchair to get around. He was born prematurely at 29 weeks and has cerebral palsy. His lightweight wheelchair is his lifeline to school and all other normal activities.

It’s not known where the chair was stolen, or if it fell out of the vehicle by accident. The chair has a cost of $12,000 and is made of aluminum.

“I talked with Gillette and they said if someone was to try and scrap his wheelchair they’d get about $4 for it,” Sauter said.

A campaign was started and quickly raised enough money to replace the chair with a new one. (Source: WCCO-TV)


Minnesotans can use ABLE accounts

Minnesotans with disabilities and their families can save for goods and services to improve their lives under the new Minnesota ABLE (Achieving a Better Life Experience) Plan, which opened in January. The accounts are welcomed by families wishing to save for a child’s college or meet other needs.

The plan allows a maximum of $14,000 a year, to a total maximum of $100,000, to be contributed to an account for an individual before the individual’s benefits are affected. Participants can choose to put their money into what operates as a checking account or into one of six investment options.

ABLE accounts are not limited to people with disabilities on public programs. The accounts are exempt from eligibility consideration if people are on Medical Assistance, Supplemental Security Income or other federal programs. Previously people with disabilities may lose eligibility for government benefits once they reached $2,000 in savings.

Minnesota ABLE Plan accounts can be opened online at Call 888-609-8872 with questions. Parents of eligible minor children may initiate an account for their child. Any person can contribute to an ABLE account. Contributions can be made by check, through an employer’s payroll direct deposit, or directly from another checking or savings account.

“The Minnesota ABLE Plan helps people with disabilities, including those who want to work and build earnings, and families who want to contribute funds that can be used to maintain health, independence, and quality of life,” said Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper. “People will now be able to save for education, housing, assistive technology and a variety of other things that are not included in public benefits.”

Ascensus College Savings is the firm that will administer the Minnesota ABLE Plan. (Source:


Audit shows state hiring issues

A first-ever outside audit found that state agencies don’t fully comply with equal-opportunity laws, resulting in missed job and contract opportunities for people with disabilities, people of color and women. The audit concludes that state agencies don’t follow the affirmative action, procurement, and human rights laws already on the books to recruit, hire and protect a diverse pool of employees and contractors.

The 114-page audit also found that the state has dramatically slashed the budget and staff at the Human Rights Department, which has the job of investigating discrimination allegations and reviewing departmental affirmative action plans.

Also, problems detected were not always fixed, according to the report. The state Department of Administration failed to correct disparities when found, even though the commissioner had authority to “use set-asides and percentage preferences … to increase contracting with targeted groups.”

“There is a lot of work that needs to be done,” said Minneapolis attorney Michael Fondungallah, who wrote the audit with law partner Pamela Kigham and Milwaukee attorney James Hall. “People were signing off and were not following the law and not making an effort to recruit protected-class people.”

Social justice advocates say that a lack of opportunity and deep-seated institutional biases play a prominent role in the state’s dismal record of income and educational disparities and that the report proves it. The governor intentionally gave the auditors breathing room to complete their work, said the chief of staff Jaime Tincher, who co-chaired the audit working group. “It’s important to look back, but let’s look at these numbers and use them to move forward to change the behaviors, and the strategies, and the tactics that are happening, with a focus on what we want to achieve,” Tincher said in a statement. (Source: Star Tribune)


Dayton signs health premium relief

Gov. Mark Dayton signed health insurance premium relief into law January 26, soon after it passed the House of Representatives 108-19 and the Senate 47-19. As many as 120,000 Minnesotans could start seeing big drops on their health insurance premiums. Roughly $310 million will be spent throughout 2017 to give 25 percent discounts.

The measure was signed into law just before the open enrollment period for 2017 health insurance ended, prompting calls for Minnesotans who had been holding back from buying insurance due to the high premium cost to now reconsider. After the law was enacted, some details still had to be worked out. The relief is available only to people who buy insurance on the individual market — not people who get insurance through their employer or through a government program such as Medical Assistance or Medicare.

Among people on the individual market, the 25 percent state-funded discount applies only to individuals who don’t get federal tax subsidies. Those federal subsidies are available to people earning up to 400 percent of the poverty limit — $47,520 for an individual, or $97,200 for a family of four. There is no maximum income limit.

In order to get discounted individual market insurance, Minnesotans must have current individual market coverage. Though federal subsidies are only available on plans purchased through the state-run MNsure exchange, the state grants are available to plans bought on MNsure or directly from insurers. The discounts will be automatically applied to customers’ insurance invoices.

“If you qualify for the discount it will show up on your premium invoice in a few months,” said Eileen Smith with the Minnesota Council of Health Plans. “You don’t have to do anything to get the discount.” People should keep paying their premiums in full — and not take 25 percent off themselves, the Council of Health Plans said. Discounts are likely to start appearing in bills sent out in April for May insurance, though some insurers could apply the discounts earlier. Even though it will take months to start getting the cuts, they are retroactive to the beginning of the year. Smith said customers would likely see the retroactive discounts applied to future bills. (Source: Pioneer Press)


Minnesota selected for new clinics

Minnesota is one of eight states selected to pilot a new model of mental and chemical health care, called certified community behavioral health clinics, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced in January.

The clinics are an innovative model designed to bring together behavioral, chemical and physical health care for people with mental and substance use disorders, and serve as a “one-stop-shop” for both adults and children who have trouble getting the services they need.

Typically, a person with a mental illness will need to contact several different agencies to obtain various services, and rarely can someone obtain both mental health and substance use disorder treatment through the same agency. The new model intends to change that by offering services to adults with serious mental illness, children with serious emotional disturbance, and people with substance use disorders. The clinics will offer services such as primary care screening, cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, and trauma-focused therapy for children.

Support for the clinics was one piece of Gov. Mark Dayton’s $47 million commitment to the state’s mental health care system, said Minnesota Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper.

“As a state, we move closer and closer to filling the gaps in our state’s continuum of care,” Piper said. “We must continue to invest in this to make sure people get the right services at the right time.”

Last spring, six clinics began planning. DHS in the fall certified the clinics across Minnesota as pilot sites. These are Northern Pines Mental Health Center, Northwestern Mental Health Center, Wilder Children and Family Services, People Incorporated, Ramsey County Mental Health Center and Zumbro Valley Mental Health Center. (Source: Minnesota DHS)


Family frustrated with handling of case

An Alexandria family has continued to object to how police there handled a February 2015 incident with a family member with mental illness. But the Salisburys lost a round recently, when the Minnesota Department of Human Rights wouldn’t take their side in the dispute.

The state found no probable cause that the Alexandria police officers who went to the Salisburys’ house in February 2015 engaged in discrimination on the basis of Salisbury’s disability. All three officers had some level of crisis intervention training to help de-escalate conflicts, the decision noted.

David Salisbury has struggled for decades with mental health problems, but an outburst that involved throwing a television at the back door landed the Alexandria man in jail — not in a hospital or treatment facility.

The Salisburys are considering an appeal. “I’m just in shock,” said Pat Salisbury. “They came into our house. I told them my husband was sick and needed to go to the hospital.”

Alexandria Police Chief Richard Wyffels said there were safety risks, he said, and if the mentally ill person is acting out, the first stop is going to be jail. Wyffels said he saw the incident as a domestic situation, with the son and wife in harm’s way. “Our officers are very sensitive to mental illness and know this is part of the world we live in,” Wyffels said. “The police did their job in this case.”

The case comes amid mounting concerns over relying on police to respond to mental health emergencies and the high number of mentally ill people caught up in the criminal justice system. Mental health advocate Sue Abderholden, head of NAMI Minnesota, said Salisbury’s ordeal is all too familiar. Most people have no idea they can tap a mental health crisis team for such emergencies. (Source: Star Tribune)


Early intervention seen as key

Reducing the time it takes for a person experiencing psychosis to get treatment is the goal of two new mental health pilot projects in the Twin Cities. Called coordinated specialty care, the pilot projects will serve people 15 to 40 years old with early signs of psychosis. The word “psychosis” is used to describe conditions that affect the mind when there has been
some loss of contact with reality. Psychosis is treatable, and studies have shown that early treatment increases the chance of a successful recovery.

“It’s critical that people who are first experiencing psychosis get the right care quickly,” said Department of Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper. “This research-based program is an exciting new approach that will help people when they need it most.”

Three organizations will receive up to $2.97 million in federal funds through the State of Minnesota. Offering the new service will be Hennepin County Medical Center with one team and the University of Minnesota at their Psychiatry Clinic in St. Louis Park with two teams. Each team can serve up to 30 people.

The third organization receiving funding, the Minnesota Center for Chemical and Mental Health, will provide technical support, including training, consultation and community information sessions. “The need for treatment for first episode psychosis is great,” says Piper Meyer-Kalos, principal investigator and executive director of the Minnesota Center for Chemical and Mental Health. “Currently, people experiencing psychosis for the first time are typically waiting well over a year to get treatment.”

Funding for the program is through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). SAMHSA recently required that states set aside 10 percent of their Community Mental Health Services Block Grant to address these needs. (Source: Minnesota DHS)


Questions raised about handling of case

A 15-year-old girl who ran away from an Itasca County mental health treatment center was sexually abused by an adult counselor who allegedly harbored the girl in her home, according to a recent state investigation report. The girl was missing for more than two months last fall before Grand Rapids police discovered her in the garage of a former counselor at the Itaskin Center, a 62-bed treatment facility. The girl, who was seen running away from the home last summer, hid in the former counselor’s home.

The center was cited for neglect after state investigators concluded that multiple staff members failed to report concerns about an inappropriate relationship between the adult counselor and the girl. The incident follows a series of recent breakdowns at state-licensed facilities for children and teens, and has prompted fresh questions about staff professionalism and legal accountability.

“We are not even close to holding anyone accountable in these cases,” said Nancy Fitzsimons, a professor of social work at Minnesota State University, Mankato. The Grand Rapids city attorney has questioned why no charges against the counselor have been announced by the Itasca County attorney’s office.

According to the state report, a staff person with “significant supervisory and administrative authority” was aware that the girl may have been in a relationship with the counselor and staying at her home, but failed to report this as required. “There were some major red flags here that went ignored,” said Roberta Opheim, state ombudsman for mental health and developmental disabilities.

Jim Christmas, president and chief executive of North Homes Children and Family Services, parent organization of the facility, said the case has led to a “renewed emphasis” among staff on their obligations as caregivers and mandatory reporters of maltreatment.” But he also said the home disagrees with the state finding of neglect. (Source: Star Tribune)


Piper seeks new facility

During a visit to Willmar in January, Minnesota Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper stressed the need for legislators to support a proposal to fund a new facility for a state-operated hospital that serves children and teens with complex mental health conditions. Gov. Mark Dayton has proposed $7.53 million to construct a new, 16-bed child and adolescent behavioral health services facility.

“Our staff are caring for kids experiencing significant mental health crises, and who are often physically aggressive, in a building with poor sightlines, dangerous stairways and unsafe bathrooms,” said Piper. “It’s time for lawmakers to support a new facility that is safe and gives our young patients a therapeutic environment for recovery. The current leased facility is part of the MinnWest Technology Campus, site of the former Willmar Regional Treatment Center. Piper said the state is working to extend the lease for the site, set to expire in June, but a long-term solution needs to be found.

In addition to addressing problems with stairways and sightlines, the proposed new facility will give the program the flexibility to group patients in units appropriate to their ages or conditions as children are admitted or discharged.

“A new facility is just one piece of what we need to ensure that we’re providing safe, quality care for some of the state’s youngest and most vulnerable citizens,” Piper said. “We also need additional funding – included in Gov. Dayton’s budget – to continue to staff our facilities appropriately.”

The new Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health Services facility is one of several projects Dayton has proposed to address safety issues at state-run psychiatric facilities. He has also called for $70.255 million for renovations at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter and $2.25 million for security upgrades at the Anoka-Metro Regional Treatment Center. (Source: Minnesota DHS)




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