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State commissioner tours BRHSC campus

Making her first visit to the Brainerd Regional Human Services Center, Minnesota Department of Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson said Friday that while there’s no concrete plan for potential use of the closed former state hospital buildings the department is open to ideas.

“We’re actively looking for alternatives for this campus,” she said after a tour of DHS agencies at the BRHSC campus.

Maureen O’Connell, assistant commissioner for chemical and mental health services, said she had recently discussed the former state hospital campus with Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd.

Jesson said she was interested in talking with representatives of Crow Wing County, Brainerd, tribal officials and the business community about possible uses for the 127-acre campus.

The commissioner visited with employees of DHS employees in MinnesotaCare, Community Addiction Recovery Enterprises and the Minnesota Neurorehabilitation Hospital. 

Department of Health officials said there are 28 patients in state chemical dependency programs and 21 in the Four Winds chemical dependency program in Building 22. Officials said there are about 41 employees in the Minnesota Neurorehabilitation Hospital in Building 21. The total number of state employees on the BRHSC campus was estimated at about 200 employees by Patrice Vick, a spokesperson of the Minnesota Department of Health.

Jesson lauded the 94 employees of MinnesotaCare at the campus who process applications. Jesson said they successfully reduced the time between application and the point where a decision is made regarding their eligibility by more than 40 percent.

The efforts of the 94 MinnesotaCare employees, she said, means that Minnesotans receive their health insurance that much sooner.

She also commended DHS employees for their effort to make system changes to receive new applications for Minnesotans who are now eligible for Medicaid after an executive order was signed by Gov. Mark Dayton.

Jesson’s department, which makes up 30 percent of the general fund expenditures, has faced reductions in light of the state’s budget deficit. She said 80 percent of the DHS budget goes to health care and the majority of that goes to individuals with disabilities and the elderly — the state’s most vulnerable citizens.

“All of our dollars directly affect people,” she said.

When the latest economic forecast was made, she said initial plans to make cuts were scaled back slightly. While the department had been considering cuts of $700 million, now she said it looks like the cuts will be about $500 million.

Jesson emphasized the department will look for ways to streamline its services.

“It’s important to do things as efficiently as we can,” she said.

 Jesson, commissioner of the state’s largest agency, was an associate professor of law at Hamline University School of Law and founded and served as director of Hamline’s Health Law Institute. She formerly was a chief deputy county attorney in Hennepin County. She earned her bachelor of arts degree from the University of Arkansas and her law degree from the University of Pennsylvania.

MIKE O’ROURKE may be reached at or 855-5860.