Regional News - March 2022

Behavioral health hours expanded 

City of Minneapolis Behavioral Crisis Response (BCR) teams are now operating 24 hours a day, Monday through Friday. The teams are part of a pilot project led by the City’s Office of Performance and Innovation with Canopy Roots serving as the provider. 

The teams launched in December 2021 as a new first response that provides crisis intervention and connection to support services. They initially operated Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to midnight. 

Two mobile units operate throughout Minneapolis. Each has a team of two behavioral health responders and outreach supplies, such as water, socks, snacks and toiletries. Minneapolis 911 dispatches the responders. The teams can’t be called directly by residents. 

The response teams are an alternative to police response. The Minneapolis Police Department will only be on scene if dispatch determines the need to clear the scene first or the response teams request assistance to complete their work. 

People having a behavioral crisis or reporting one, should continue to call 911 for help. 911 dispatchers will gather information and determine if the incident is eligible for a mobile behavioral health team response. The teams will not respond to incidents involving firearms or violent behavior. MPD can request the assistance of the Behavioral Crisis Response teams to complete their work as well. 

(Source: City of Minneapolis) 

Hiring campaign underway 

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce has launched a statewide campaign, to address the severe worker shortage by finding talent in overlooked populations. 
 
A new training series called “Overlooked Talent” will teach Minnesota employers how to find and hire skilled workers with disabilities, people of color, military veterans or former inmates. 
 
“We really want employers to think about these talent pools that often get overlooked,” said Jennifer Byers, executive director of the Minnesota Chamber Foundation. “They should not be considered second tier. These are very talented individuals and should be given a chance to work.” 
 
The first session was “Building a disability-inclusive workplace.” 
 
Besides training sessions, future efforts will include Chamber road trips, inclusivity coaching at individual companies, training sessions for local chambers and the building of a library of instructive videos for use by any of the Chamber’s 6,300 partners and members. 
 
With record numbers of Minnesotans quitting their jobs, flat population growth and job vacancies hitting a record 205,000, the outreach effort is needed. Companies have had to cut hours or decline orders because of the shortage of staff. 
 
“The need for workers is more critical than ever,” Byers said. “Minnesota is a loser in domestic migration, and the need for employees is the No. 1 issue we hear from people across the state. We need everybody off the sidelines and everyone to be in the workforce who wants to be.” 
 
Officials from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) are expected to assist in the effort. 
 
“I think that employers want to access these pools of talent but they might not know how and might not have the language or access. But it’s important to help them make those connections,” said DEED Commissioner Steve Grove. “This has long been needed in Minnesota. It’s really important for the business community to have a proactive and forward-leaning orientation during a time of true crisis as it relates to our workforce.” 
 
The U.S. unemployment rate for people with disabilities in January was 9.7 percent, compared with 4.3 percent for people without disabilities. according to the U.S. Labor Department. 
 
Eric Black, chief executive of Minnesota Diversified Industries (MDI), said the state can do better. MDI employs 430 people with disabilities at four Minnesota assembly facilities and last year placed another 92 job seekers in jobs at other companies. 
 
Many potential employers falsely assume disabled workers can’t contribute at a high level and are costly to employ, said Black, who helped the chamber with its first session. 

(Source: Star Tribune) 

Health equity is eyed 

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has announced the creation of a new Health Equity Bureau within the department. It will house several existing MDH units including the Center for Health Equity and the new Office of American Indian Health. The structure will also serve as the department’s hub for proactive Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts, and will lead the department’s equity work within the COVID-19 response. 

“The pandemic continues to demonstrate with shocking clarity the systemic issues underlying Minnesota’s health inequities as well as the troubling health conditions and outcomes magnified by those inequities,” Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm said. “The creation of this new bureau builds on what we have learned during the COVID-19 pandemic and reflects our deepening commitment to health equity in all aspects of public health.” 

MDH is tapping Dr. Brooke Cunningham to lead this new bureau. Cunningham is a general internist, sociologist and assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Minnesota. She will be joining MDH as an assistant commissioner on March 2. 

She practices internal medicine at the Community-University Health Care Clinic and since fall of 2020, she has co-directed the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Thread, which aims to prepare future physicians to advance health equity. 

“Dr. Cunningham brings a remarkable breadth of experience and skill to our equity work, and we are excited to have her join our team,” Malcolm said. “Advancing health equity is the work of all of us in public health, and her expertise and leadership will help us move forward not only in the context of the pandemic response but in all aspects of our work.” 

(Source: Minnesota Department of Health) 

Cold Spring facility opens 

A short-term residential treatment center that would provide psychiatric and behavioral services to children is opening in in Cold Spring. 

Developed by Grafton Integrated Health Network, a Virginia-based behavioral health care organization, the facility is intended to provide up to 30 beds and services in areas such as life skills and family and individual therapy at 224 Krays Mill Road. Educational services would be provided in partnership with Benton-Stearns Education District, according to the company. 

Services will focus on children who need additional behavioral support, such as children with developmental disabilities, autism and mental health disorders, said the center’s Executive Director Lori Schmidt. Planned is a strong emphasis on family therapy. 

Many of the services will happen in phases, starting with the most critical needs and expanding. Stays will average 90 days for children ages eight to 18 and up to 21 if they are in school, and Grafton emphasizes a trauma-informed approach, focusing on comfort versus control and Grafton’s “ukeru” technique, a behavior management strategy used for de-escalation. 

For many children, services and community-based support have been severely interrupted with the pandemic. that was on top of an already existing shortage of services, and particularly residential services for children with dual disorders.  

Children will also be provided with discharge support, a pre-enrollment meeting with the child’s family, community providers or others to help identify what a support system would look like then and in the future for the child. 

(Source: St. Cloud Times) 

Crisis numbers are sought 

The Minnesota Student Association (MSA) Health & Wellness Task Force at the University of Minnesota is pushing for the U Card office to add mental health crisis phone numbers on the back of U Cards. 

The approval for the mental health crisis phone numbers on U Cards would be a step forward to provide an immediate resource that will affect students on campus. 

Amanda Ichel, head of the MSA Health & Wellness Task Force, said this has been a goal for MSA since the beginning of last semester, and they are currently working to have it passed through administration. 

“The communications team made some drafts of design ideas that we could show administration and the U Card office, so we do have a few options,” Ichel said. 

Nicole Schaumann, a member of the MSA Health & Wellness Task Force who helped on this project, is hopeful that progress is being made. 

The advocates are taking their request to administration. 

An MSA resolution written by Ichel in 2021 reported that more than 65 percent of University students were experiencing mental health issues. 

According to Ichel, the U Cards with mental health phone numbers would be given to incoming freshmen, transfer students and those who lose their current U Cards and need to replace them. 

“It would not require a reprint of U Cards, since that would be costly for the University,” Ichel said. 

The MSA Health & Wellness Task Force decided to include the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, the Aurora Center hotline and the Minneapolis local hotline. 

In addition, the back of U Cards would include a texting option for students, to reach mental health resources by texting “UMN” to 61222. 

(Source: Minnesota Daily) 

Students face pandemic delays 

Before COVID-19, Suzy Lindeberg’s son was learning life skills and building confidence in a Stillwater schools program that helps disabled students prepare for life beyond high school. In John’s case, it meant preparing to live as an adult with Down syndrome. The district helped connect him and another student with a local restaurant. They learned “everything from folding the boxes and assembling the boxes to making the pizzas to cleaning the kitchen when they were all done working,” she said. “It was a great experience.” 

Then came the pandemic. In-person learning, whether in class or out in the community, became inaccessible. Opportunities to learn about getting around on public transportation, going to Target or the grocery store, or making purchases on his own were lost to fears of catching the virus. 

Minnesota Public Radio has looked closely at issues facing special education students and families during the pandemic. “I would say, at a minimum, a year and a half was lost and can’t be regained with the recovery that the state is telling school districts that they can offer,” said Lindeberg, who’s board chair of the Down Syndrome Association of Minnesota.  

After two years of living with COVID, the pandemic has forced some of Minnesota’s youngest and oldest learners with Down syndrome to miss out on in-person education and programs vital to their progress — time that often can’t be recaptured. Transition programming ends at age 21.  

Legislation passed in 2021 requires public schools to assess whether students with individualized education programs have regressed or lost learning opportunities during the pandemic. They must determine appropriate services to help compensate for lost learning, and deliver them regardless of staff shortages or school closures. 

Implementing the requirement, however, hasn’t been easy. 

“It’s really hard to generalize whether or not the school should be kind of doing more across the board,” said Dan Stewart, the legal director at the Minnesota Disability Law Center. “Parents will almost certainly say, ‘Yes, of course,’ and districts will mostly say, ‘Yes, we’re doing a really good job. We’re doing the best we can, given the scenario that we’re in.’” 

Online instruction for disabled students “has largely been not as rigorous, not as comprehensive, not as personal, not as meaningful as in-person services,” he said. 

Students who can’t stay focused on screens for long periods of time, and those who need specialized in-person services or hands-on instruction have struggled with virtual learning, he added. 

“For these kids, the COVID experience has been a largely unmitigated disaster because of the COVID restrictions, because of staffing problems, because of technology problems,” Stewart said. 

Some families have had to split up because not all school districts offer the same online opportunities. Changing mask requirements are also a concern. 

(Source: Minnesota Public Radio) 

Autism training hosted 

Hormel Historic Home in Austin recently hosted an autism training for law enforcement. The goal of the program is to provide police officers and other first responders with knowledge and tools to build an overall positive relationship with people who have autism. 

According to the National Center on Criminal Justice, people with developmental disabilities are seven times more likely to encounter police. They are also twice as likely to be victims of a violent crime. 

“People on the autism spectrum, especially if they’re approached suddenly or by surprise or unexpectedly, they may have behaviors that could be misunderstood or confusing,” said Community Autism Resource Specialist Mary Barinka. 

National expert, licensed private investigator and author, Dennis Debbaudt, is bringing this idea of H.E.A.R.T., or Helping Enhance Autism Response Training, to communities across the nation. 

“We may be planning for things that may not happen in our life time ever, but we still have a plan in place,” said Debbaudt. 

This type of training is not currently required by Minnesota statute but the goal for many is to have it become part of our everyday lives, whether you are a police officer, parent, or even a community member. 

“My deputies were here, my investigators were here. That means so much to have you come and share that information,” said Mower County Sheriff Steve Sandvik. 

Autism training, specifically like this one for law enforcement, is not meant to single anyone out, but to make sure everyone can be protected and kept as safe as possible. 

(Source: KTTC-TV) 

Veterans to get help 

Dakota County will partner with Carver County to work with U.S. military veterans charged with criminal offenses who are struggling with addiction and serious mental illness. 
 
County Attorney Kathryn Keena initiated the collaboration in August 2021 with Carver’s Veterans Court and announced its formation Thursday. Carver has been operating a Veterans Treatment Court since 2014. 
 
Keena said she had considered establishing one in Dakota County, but it wasn’t feasible, given the limited number of qualifying participants and the limited judicial staff. 
 
“Collaborating with Carver County is an efficient and effective use of resources that makes a valuable program available to current and prior service members residing in Dakota County who are involved in the criminal justice system,” she said. 
 
The Carver Dakota Veterans Treatment Court began accepting participants in November 2021 and has three veterans from Dakota County currently enrolled. 
 
Who’s eligible? Any adult 18 years or older who has served in the U.S. military, has a non-disciplinary discharge from the military, is a resident of Carver or Dakota counties, has been charged with a crime, is experiencing a treatable mental health or substance abuse problem related to the offense and is willing to participate. 
 
The veteran also must get the consent of the prosecuting attorney for a referral to the Veterans Court. 

A key component, besides reducing the veteran’s contact with the criminal justice system, is the Veteran Mentor Program which pairs a veteran mentor with a participant. The mentor acts as a coach, guide, role model, advocate and source of support for the participant. 

Veterans courts are always looking for mentor volunteers. An application to apply can be found online at https://tinyurl.com/ye25m5z6. 

There are currently veterans courts operating in Anoka, Hennepin, Ramsey, St. Louis and now Carver/Dakota counties.  

(Source: Pioneer Press)