Groups Focused on Mental Health and Addiction Honored with Circle of Excellence Awards

By Steiner, Andy | MinnPost.com, December 9, 2015 | Go to article overview

Groups Focused on Mental Health and Addiction Honored with Circle of Excellence Awards


Steiner, Andy, MinnPost.com


At the 2015 Commissioner's Circle of Excellence Awards last week, then-Minnesota Department of Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson honored seven Minnesota-based human services programs for their outstanding contributions to the lives of their clients.

Three of the programs honored -- Ecumen Awakenings, Pregnant Native American's Opioid Addiction Services and Zumbro Valley Health Center -- focus on serving people with mental health and addiction. (Other honorees included Southern Prairie Community Care; Kid Connection; Community Action Duluth; and Central Converting, Inc.

Jesson, who left DHS last week for a seat on the Minnesota Court of Appeals, said that traveling around the state to learn about the work of the different programs honored was "one of the very best things about being commissioner."

She said that the programs and services the organizations provided had real, everyday impact on the lives of human services clients, including "the ability to remain independent, the chance to keep families together, the opportunity for better employment. It is a great calling to help our fellow Minnesotans live dignified and fulfilling lives and it is important that these exceptional efforts are applauded, their stories are told and ideas shared."

The organizations "exemplify all of the great human services work happening across Minnesota," Jesson said.

On Monday, I spoke with representatives from the three mental- health-and-addiction-focused honorees. They told me about their organizations' unique histories and missions.

Ecumen Awakenings

In the not-so-distant past, nursing home patients with dementia were routinely physically restrained in their wheelchairs and beds. The rationale behind this protocol was that by limiting residents' movements, caregivers were keeping them from harming themselves. The use of restraints eventually faded after the public objected to the idea of confining elderly people against their will.

While the use of physical restraints fell out of favor, many facilities chose to restrain elderly patients with dementia in a different way: through the use of potent antipsychotic medications. Assisting a person with dementia can be challenging; on antipsychotics, elderly patients often become passive, unresponsive and easy to control.

Starting in 2010, Ecumen, a Shoreview-based nonprofit that owns and operates senior-housing facilities in Minnesota, Idaho, Nebraska, North Dakota, Tennessee, Michigan and Wisconsin, changed its approach to caring for residents with dementia. Over a number of years, it has reduced or eliminated the use of antipsychotic medications in their memory-care facilities, instead relying on nonpharmacological and biomedical approaches. This new approach to care is known as Ecumen Awakenings.

"The problem of these medications was very much like the era when we used to physically restrain people in their wheelchairs and their beds," said Maria Reyes RN, Acumen Awakenings program director. "We weren't trying to be mean. It was out of a place of concern. But we learned that didn't work, and we've found a better way to care for people."

Last week Ecumen was honored by DHS for its Awakenings program, which, Reyes explained, was named for "the actual experience of when we first started to reduce medication for patients in a small pilot study. We saw that people were waking out of their drug-induced stupors and coming back into life. "

Today, instead of using drugs to calm residents with dementia, Ecumen staff employ individualized care strategies designed to engage and entertain.

"The strategies vary from individual to individual," Reyes explained. "We are trying to learn who the client is, what their likes and dislikes are, what their historical patterns are, what hobbies they enjoy. As you start to provide things in lieu of medication, you start to find things that are of meaning."

This approach, which is now standard in all Ecumen facilities, has been found to make life better for both patients and caregivers, she said: "When you know better, you do better. …

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