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Collaboration, pilot program could expand the Center for Victims of Torture’s work in MN

As many as 44 percent of refugees and a comparable level of asylum seekers are estimated to have experienced torture. In Minnesota, as many as 50,000 to 60,000 people could have been impacted, said Pete Dross, director of external relations for the Center for Victims of Torture.

Even once a person is removed from these traumatizing situations, they continue to struggle with chronic pain, mobility problems, recurring nightmares and other sleep disorders, severe anxiety, deep depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and frequent thoughts of suicide.

The Center for Victims of Torture uses a combination of primary care services, weekly psychotherapy, and targeted case management to help victims rebuild their lives, Dross told the House Health and Human Services Policy Committee Friday.

HF1875, sponsored by Rep. Ami Wazlawik (DFL-White Bear Township), would launch a collaboration between the center and Department of Human Services.

This collaboration, funded by $1.5 million in appropriations, would allow the center to expand its services and begin determining how programming developed at the center could be used to help other populations.

The bill was approved as amended and referred to the House Ways and Means Committee. A companion, SF2028, is sponsored by Sen. Jim Abeler (R-Anoka) and awaits action by the Senate Human Services Reform Finance and Policy Committee.

The Center for Victims of Torture began working with two medical clinics while testing its care model over a five-year period. The results – which are awaiting publication – indicate significant decreases in psychological symptoms and increases in social functioning, said Ally Beckman, senior clinician for external relations at the Center for Victims of Torture.

A one-time $1 million appropriation in Fiscal Year 2020 would be used to develop a pilot program that would expand the center’s care model to three additional service sites — likely St. Cloud, Minneapolis, and a city in southern Minnesota, like Rochester – and allow for additional testing.

Each site would have two case managers and two therapists, who could carry a caseload of 26 people each, allowing the center to serve an additional 156 clients, Beckman said.

The appropriation would cover a two-year planning and implementation period as well as start-up and operating costs. The bill would also direct the department to contract with the center to provide services to people eligible for Medical Assistance at a rate of $695 per month.

This reimbursement rate would make the programs self-sustaining, Wazlawik said.

In Fiscal Year 2020, $500,000 would be appropriated to evaluate whether the center’s “social functioning tool,” which looks at 37 different factors, could be adapted for more general use.

Committee members discussed other groups who could benefit from similar services, including the homeless, victims of gun violence, and child abuse victims.

Beckman said work done by the center has already begun changing how primary care clinics work with refugees – who may not be as severely impacted as the center’s clients, but still struggle with many of the same issues. A recently published survivor toolkit has already been downloaded for use by 32 other states, she said.

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