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Human Services commissioner visits BRHSC campus

Faced with a rapidly aging population that will require more help, the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Legislature initiated several reforms this past legislative session.

DHS Commissioner Lucinda Jesson said Thursday what was accomplished was a total redesign of how the state will serve older Minnesotans and those with disabilities. Helping those Minnesotans who want to stay in their homes as opposed to living in congregate, assisted living, is a key part of that plan. Jesson made her comments on a visit the Brainerd Regional Human Services Center campus.

“It’s not tweaking,” she said. “It’s a major redesign.”

That redesign followed bipartisan state support to keep MinnesotaCare (MnCare), the state’s health plan for low income working citizens, and requesting the federal government steer dollars that otherwise would go to subsidize insurance purchases to those who are eligible for MnCare. In essence, the redesign would expand Medicaid to working poor adults and their children. Jesson said the state is very close to receiving federal approval for this plan.

“It’s a lot better option for working families,” she said.

In an effort to help older Minnesotans stay in their homes the state will use more outreach efforts in order to provide a broad array of services. Jesson said money will be available for home modifications such as moving a washer and dryer upstairs, that might keep an elderly couple out of a nursing home.

“It saves us money in the long run,” Jesson said.

Another key adjustment for her department will be to help implement the federal Affordable Care Act. The implementation, she said, will mean that an additional 235,000 Minnesotans will receive health coverage.

Addressing recent news stories that highlighted state-paid transportation bills of $2.55 million during a one-year period for taxis to take patients from Duluth to Brainerd and back for methadone treatment, Jesson said she couldn’t comment on any ongoing investigations.

In general, she said methadone clinics should be strictly monitored and that currently the regulation of those clinics is too divided and lack central oversight. She also said there is too much diversion or misuse of the drug.

“We just need to do a better job and be more cost efficient,” she said.

A DHS news release said legislative changes will toughen regulation of methadone clinics by: incorporationg some federal standards into state licensing laws, making violations clearly enforceable; requiring treatment programs to consult with the Minnesota Prescription Monitoring Program before prescribing any controlled substance; and directing DHS to seek a federal waiver from certain confidentiality regulations.

When asked about the controversial location in August 2012 of a group home for person with disabilities near a Nokay Lake Township day care, Jesson said she would have staff research updated information on that issue. A DHS public affairs coordinator responded Friday that the group home was operating and DHS was not aware of any complaints. The DHS official said neighbors have been contacted; the department continues to monitor the community response; and DHS is closely adhering to its licensing requirements.

Jesson highlighted other legislation that affected her department including mental health grants for school districts and the expansion of mobile health crisis teams to more outstate locations.

“It’s really an opportunity to intervene early,” she said of the mental health treatment.

New legislation also helped diminish a situation in which foster families receive more state funding for being a foster home, thereby discouraging adoptions by those same families. The law zeroes in on difficult-to-adopt children who are over 6 and who sometimes have special needs.

In effort to help teen moms afford day care to either go to school or enter the work force, the state will now pay more to highly rated day care providers services who provide such service. Jesson pointed out what she termed a troubling statistic in this area. She said 75 percent of the mothers on the welfare-to-work program had mothers who were on the same program.

“We’ve got to tackle that intergenerational problem,” she said.

Formerly an associate professor of law at Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul, she founded and served as director of the Health Law Institute. She also served as chief deputy to the Hennepin County attorney; as a Minnesota deputy attorney general; and in the private sector.

MIKE O’ROURKE, associate editor, may be reached at 855-5860 or He may be followed at

Mike O'Rourke
Mike O'Rourke began his career at the Brainerd Dispatch in 1978 as a general assignment reporter. He was named city editor in 1981 and associate editor in 1999. He covers politics and writes features and editorials.
(218) 855-5860