Critical DOC/DCT services at risk without leg funding
MAPE members are not only on the frontlines helping Minnesotans battle COVID-19 but they’re also keeping them safe in communities across the state. This is why MAPE is supporting legislation calling for deficiency funding of $11.7 million to the Dept. of Corrections and $25 million to the Dept. of Human Services’ Direct Care and Treatment programs.
The Dept. Of Corrections (DOC) has recently begun laying off employees including case workers and those in safety administration, health services and other programs to cope with state budget deficits associated with the pandemic.
“Colleagues who have worked hard, who have dedicated their adult lives to corrections work, who know the facilities, are losing their jobs. We’ve remained working during COVID-19, putting our lives in danger, and now we’re losing our jobs,” Local 1702 President Seal Dwyer said. Dwyer is a clinical program therapist at the correctional facility in St. Cloud.
“Caseloads are up, people are already stressed. We’re at a place where we have old facilities falling apart and need to be fixed. With COVID-19, we’re absolutely stretched. Programming is as much about safety as it is about anything else. When offenders are learning and engaged, they do better and so do we,” she added.
Earlier this year, the Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) released a Safety in State Correctional Facilities report. The report found that several conditions reduce safety in state prisons, including persistent staffing shortages, heavy overtime use, suspensions of prisoner activities, unprofessional workplace relationships, limited oversight and outdated infrastructure.
“If the Dept. of Corrections does not receive the necessary deficiency funding, public safety will be at risk,” Jessica Raptis, Region 11 Director and DOC senior program administrator said. “We want offenders to have access to therapeutic programs so they can learn skills to transition back to the community. The state of Minnesota hasn’t done enough to follow through on the OLA report. We have to address it. It’s not safe. More budget cuts would make it worse.””
The Dept. of Human Services’ Direct Care and Treatment (DCT) division provides residential and treatment programs serving people with mental illness, developmental disabilities and chemical dependency. MAPE supports legislation to cover $25 million deficiency primarily in the community-based division.
“DCT provides foster care for adults with developmental disabilities and mental health issues, and provides vocational work so they can live meaningful lives,” said MAPE Statewide Secretary Lynn Butcher, who also serves as a state program administrator at St. Peter Regional Treatment Center.
DCT Community Based Services provides care to individuals with complex needs like mental health, and age-related conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s. Private providers refuse to care for these individuals because the reimbursement from counties is insufficient to meet their needs. Minnesota State Operated Community Services receives the same reimbursement from counties, but cannot turn away caring for these safety net individuals regardless of the cost of caring for them. These individuals rely on the state for care because there is no one else to provide it.
“COVID-19 is in some of our facilities, so employees are working in dangerous conditions and are still providing the best care they can. Often they are the only family these folks have. They are courageous and caring employees,” Butcher said.
Some employees are worried if DTC doesn’t receive the needed deficiency funding, programs for vulnerable Minnesotans could be cut. These cuts could include closing a community-based residential treatment facility, mental health hospitals or vocational program for those with mental health issues.
“DTC provides a supportive mental health system for those who don’t have any other options. This means every Minnesotan could be affected if they or their loved one requires mental health or supportive services that a private provider could not provide,” Butcher said.
The Anoka-Metro Regional Treatment Center (AMRTC) is the state’s largest psychiatric hospital. Most patients have been civilly committed by a court as mentally ill. AMRTC social worker and Local 1301 Vice President Nancy Torres said safety would be jeopardized with patients and staff if DCT doesn’t receive deficiency funding.
“COVID-19 has impacted everyone. AMRTC has been successful at keeping our numbers down because we’ve had people working overtime, and without that funding, we’re jeopardizing the safety of our patients and putting them at risk for the virus,” Torres said.
“We are a resource and a tool for individuals with mental illness to be able to return to the community. If we don’t have the staff, then we can’t accept the patients and the patients will be out in the community not getting the help they need.”