Regional News in Review – September 2016

New service providers authorized The Minnesota Department of Human Services recently certified 13 providers to deliver behavioral health home services to better […]

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New service providers authorized

The Minnesota Department of Human Services recently certified 13 providers to deliver behavioral health home services to better coordinate care for people with serious mental illness. The behavioral health home model offers a coordinated approach to health care, serving the whole person across all areas of health and wellness, from primary care to social services.

Another eight providers are finalizing their certification process to become behavioral health homes. As of July 1, behavioral health home services are covered by Medical Assistance, Minnesota’s Medicaid program.

“People with serious mental illness often experience barriers to health care access, multiple chronic health conditions and sadly, early mortality,” said Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper. “The behavioral health home model gives providers the opportunity to build a person-centered system of care that really focuses in on what that person needs to be healthy, and in turn improves outcomes for people and reduces health care costs.”

Certified providers will deliver behavioral health home services using a strength-based approach, assessing and employing the cultural values and practices of the individual and their family in supporting their health goals. They will also provide six core services that are required by the federal government for behavioral health homes to ensure they meet comprehensive health care needs. They are care management, care coordination, health promotion and wellness, transitional care, patient and family support, and referral to community and social support services.

More information about behavioral health home services is available on the DHS website, at  (Source: Minnesota DHS)



Missing teen puts focus on facility

The Avanti Center for Girls in Blaine is under scrutiny by state officials and advocates after a 15-yearold girl disappeared more than two months ago. The 24-bed residential facility provides residential treatment services for girls ages 13 to 18 who live with depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress, among other mental health disorders.

The girl left the center in July with a person who was unknown to facility staff. Staff didn’t check the person’s identification and her disappearance wasn’t reported until hours later.

The Minnesota Department of Human Services, which licenses children’s treatment centers, cited a single staff member at Avanti for neglect and ordered the facility to take measures to ensure proper training. The staff member no longer works at Avanti.

“This is serious,” said Roberta Opheim, the state ombudsman for mental health and developmental disabilities. “She is a vulnerable child, and we had an obligation as a state to protect her from harm. Now we don’t even know if she has food, shelter or is being exploited.”

Teresa Lhotka, executive director of Missing Children Minnesota, a nonprofit that supports families of missing children, said the urgency in finding the girl is “extreme,” noting that young people who are in treatment are at a much higher risk of exploitation.

The Avanti Center is owned and operated by Volunteers of America of Minnesota, a nonprofit that provides residential treatment for more than 230 children and young people at four residential treatment centers in the Twin Cities area. Center staff said they are confident that they have the right procedures in place. (Source: Star Tribune)



Agent Orange effects are eyed

Retired Spring Valley teacher and Vietnam veteran Pat Neville has come to believe that his military service entailed a sacrifice that reached beyond his own life and exacted a toll on his descendants. Neville, 73, said his prostate cancer and disability are due to his exposure to the toxic herbicide Agent Orange in Vietnam.

Neville and many other veterans contend that Agent Orange can be linked to the dsabilities of the children and grandchildren of those who served in Vietnam. He and about 60 other veterans and their family members gathered recently in Kasson to discuss the use of Agent Orange and the impacts it has on families.

“I have no doubt about it,” Neville said. “I have friends who have been through the same situation.”

Written testimonials are being gathered to build support for legislation that would mandate an investigation into the possible link between veterans’ exposure to toxic substances and the effect it had on their descendants. It also includes veterans of more recent wars, including Iraq. One challenge to those supporting the bill is that Vietnam veterans are dying, at a rate of about 350 people each day. One worry is that as veterans pass away, advocacy for more scrutiny of Agent Orange is diminished as well.

Agent Orange, a toxic herbicide, was used extensively by the U.S. during the war to clear foliage and jungles. (Source: Rochester Post-Bulletin)



Rules to be enforced

Paying people with disabilities less than the minimum wage will be more difficult in Minnesota. More than 15,000 Minnesotans with disabilities work for employers who take advantage of a loophole in federal labor law that allows them to pay below the minimum wage. This is often done in sheltered workshops. Some workers have been paid as little as 50 cents per hour. A recent Star Tribune investigation detailed the practice.

The employers now must satisfy a series of new federal rules before paying these workers less than the minimum wage. The rules, which took effect in late July, have a number of steps that must be followed.

Workers with disabilities who are younger than 24 must go through an assessment process before they are eligible for a job at less than the minimum wage at a sheltered workshop or similar workplace. Those who already work for subminimum wages must be provided with regular career counseling and information about more integrated work options in the community.

“This has the potential to be transformational,” said Kim Peck, director of vocational rehabilitation services at the Minnesota Department of Employment
and Economic Development, which is charged with enforcing the new regulations.

Many of the affected jobs are overseen by disability service providers. The providers have special certificates from the U.S. Department of Labor that exempt them from the federal minimum wage and allow them to pay workers with disabilities based on productivity, instead of a fixed hourly rate. Workers often feel trapped in the jobs, and feel they aren’t given a chance to succeed outside of sheltered workshops.

The rules affect about 15,400 workers statewide, in about 120 sheltered workshops, day treatment centers and other employers. State officials estimate that making contact with the workers will cost more than $1 million alone, and that it will cost millions more to provide services so that people can work independently in the community. Yet the state agency received no extra funding and may be forced to limit vocational services for others to implement the new rules. (Source: Star Tribune)


New Olmstead web page and email news service

Minnesota’s Olmstead Plan now has a home on the Department of Human Services website. The plan lays out how people with disabilities will be fully integrated into their home communities, in every aspect of their lives.

The “Minnesota Department of Human Services and the Olmstead Plan” page contains DHS-specific news, information and materials about the plan, including successes, fact sheets, and other materials of interest to a wide range of audiences. The page was created to focus specifically on DHS activities, while the Olmstead Implementation Office’s website continues to be the home for the entire state.

The page is also the home to a new email news list. People can simply enter their emails and start receiving news updates about the Olmstead Plan. The website page can be found at (Source: Minnesota Department of Human Services)




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  • "Stay safe, Minnesota. Take steps to protect yourself & others from the COVID-19 virus."

Mental Wellness