MinnesotaCare should not be eliminated in the state budget

The Minnesota House passed a Republican-led budget plan last week that eliminates MinnesotaCare, a public health care program that provides coverage for the working poor. Unfortunately, such a plan would harm these individuals the most. The strongest justification that conservatives use for their budget is that the nearly 100,000 Minnesotans currently on MinnesotaCare could switch to MNsure, the insurance exchange set up through the Affordable Care Act. Even with tax credits, poor Minnesotans could pay more under MNsure than MinnesotaCare. Individuals on MinnesotaCare pay between $15 and $50 in monthly premiums for their plans. Continue Reading

Members of the SEIU Healthcare Minnesota negotiating team celebrate a new contract with Allina hospitals that includes a $15 minimum wage. Photo courtesy of SEIU

New contract with Allina hospitals sets $15 minimum wage

MINNEAPOLISAs thousands of low-wage workers and allies demonstrate this week for a $15 per hour minimum wage, SEIU Healthcare Minnesota members at Allina Hospitals ratified a new three-year contract that establishes a $15 per hour minimum wage for the first time for workers at seven hospitals across the Twin Cities region, including in Shakopee and Buffalo. “At a time when more and more jobs are low-wage jobs that cannot even begin to support a family, our new contract shows that a $15 per hour minimum wage is possible because we achieved it for all of our members at seven hospitals,” said Paula Lindquist, a scheduling coordinator at Buffalo Hospital. “We are an example of the power of workers coming together to improve wages, benefits, quality of services and the future of our communities.” “For lab assistants like me, this is our first union contract and I will see a $5 per hour raise to more than $15 per hour, and better benefits,” said Tigist Tefera of Abbott-Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, whose job classification joined SEIU Healthcare Minnesota last year. “This will mean a better life for us and our families, and all workers deserve the same.” The contract provides employment security protections as well as additional health and safety protections for workers. It includes a wage increase in every year of the contract for all members, an increase in Allina’s contribution towards the members’ pension plan, and a 25 percent increase in the amount of tuition reimbursement available to all members annually. The new agreement also takes a significant step towards equal pay for equal work for workers at Allina hospitals outside the metro region, the union said.“We provide the same excellent quality care and service to our patients in Owatonna as our fellow union members do in Minneapolis and Saint Paul,” said Deb Dodds, an environmental services aide at Owatonna Hospital, “so I am glad to see that we are closing the pay equity gap for hospital workers outside the metro area, but we have more progress to make.” Coming on the heels of a new contract for 3,000 hospital workers at eight other Twin Cities hospitals – including Children’s Hospitals and Clinics, Fairview Health Services, HealthEast Care System, North Memorial Health Care, and Park Nicollet Health Services (recently merged into HealthPartners) – over 99.5 percent of the workers in 16 hospitals covered by these contracts will have a $15 per hour minimum compensation. “This contract is a step forward for every union member, but there is a lot more that we need to do to improve patient care in our hospitals,” said Vivian Straumann, a licensed practical nurse at United Hospital in Saint Paul. “We will not stop raising the issue of staffing levels until we are satisfied that we have the right number of people to keep ourselves, our patients and our hospitals safe. Continue Reading

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U, tribe aim to improve Native diets

Health problems tied to poor diets and nutrition have persistently plagued Native American communities across the country.  To help alleviate this issue, the University of Minnesota is partnering with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community in its $5 million “Seeds of Native Health” campaign to improve the health and nutrition of indigenous people nationwide. Research has shown that poor nutrition has led to increased rates of obesity, diabetes and chronic health problems in Native communities. Diabetes is one of the leading causes of death among American Indians and Alaska Natives, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health. The campaign will address these issues by improving health programs that are already in place and funding new research to identify what types of programs could be createdto alleviate the health disparities, said SMSC secretary and treasurer Lori Watso, who championed the idea for the campaign. She said she hopes individual Native communities will then use the programs and apply them to their specific health needs. Watso said her background in public health and education, along with the work she’s done related to healthy food in her community, has given her an insight into the health issues Native communities are facing, especially regarding their diets. “Through all of that work, I’ve seen firsthand the detrimental effects of poor nutrition,” she said. “I’ve really come to believe that our nutrition is the foundation for everything.” Lori Watso said SMSC selected the University as a partner because of the school’s work in related research and ability to better understand issues at a national level. College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resources Sciences Dean Brian Buhr said the college has worked with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community in the past. The school has also done nutrition-related research and programming across diverse populations, and Buhr said he hopes CFANS can use that research as a starting point in the partnership. He said the University’s role in the campaign will likely be to research strategies to improve Native nutrition and assist in planning a series of annual conferences on the topic. Though Buhr said the partnership’s specifics are yet to be defined, he said the  University has started identifying and uniting people who are doing similar research.  “[Change] does require true partnership,” Buhr said. “I think that’s the exciting part — is to have that opportunity to think about how we can really work together to create some solutions to this.” In addition to partnering with the University, SMSC is working with nonprofit organizations First Nations Development Institute and the Notah Begay III Foundation. Both have a history of working to solve nationwide Native health issues. First Nations Development Institute President Michael Roberts said his Colorado-based organization has a large portfolio in food systems initiatives and a history of research and policymaking. In 2012, the nonprofit gave out $905,000 in grants to organizations aimed at improving health in Native communities. SMSC secretary and treasurer Watso said she’s hopeful that the campaign will finally begin to address some of the issues that have been present in Native communities for many years. “Native people are so disproportionately affected in all health and socio-economic indicators,” she said. Continue Reading

Sanneh Foundation Trains North Minneapolis Hmong, Latino Soccer Players

Last week, 40 North Minneapolis soccer players poured into Farview park for the Sanneh Foundation spring soccer clinic.Most of the soccer players were Hmong and Latino.  Many of the Hmong soccer players were born in Thai refugee camps.Several times during the year, the Sanneh foundation comes to north Minneapolis and provides training for players from poor families who could not normally afford this type of coachingSanneh Foundation fits donated soccer shoes on the feet of North Minneapolis soccer playersIn addition, the Sanneh Foundation has donated soccer shoes, soccer balls, water bottles, backpacks and shirts to the players.  The Sanneh soccer camps emphasize soccer as a fun part of a healthy lifestyle of exercise and good  eating.  Both veteran soccer players and those trying soccer for the first time enjoy coming to the clinics.  This April, in addition to learning soccer skills, players learned about good sportsmanship,  and even learned  a little Italian.  In  October,  the Sanneh foundation combines its soccer clinic with a Halloween party.  Sanneh Foundation Halloween Party and Soccer ClinicIn the fall, the North Minneapolis  Hmong and Latino soccer players play in the Minneapolis Parks League, for the Farview Park and Bethune Park soccer teams.  All the players have gotten training and soccer balls from the Sanneh Foundation, and most wear soccer shoes donated by the Sanneh Foundation.2014 Farview 13u soccer team celebrates winning Minneapolis Parks regular season championshipWith the Sanneh Foundation’s help, the Farview Park soccer team has won two city-wide tournaments and six regular season championships in the past three years, and the Bethune soccer team has won two city-wide tournaments and been runners-up in a third city-wide tournament.2014 Bethune 13u soccer team, finalists in Minneapolis Parks city-wide tournamentEach March, the Sanneh Foundation holds its major fundraiser, Gala4Goals.    And every year the Farview soccer team comes down and tells the participants how the Sanneh Foundation helps North Minneapolis soccer players.Farview soccer players at Sanneh Foundation’s Gale4Goals fundraiserIt is the soccer players’ way of saying Thank You Sanneh Foundation. Continue Reading

Currie Avenue, Minneapolis

When We Talk About “Homelessness”, What are We Really Talking About?

I start quite deliberately with the scare quotes above because it is one of my primary objectives here to articulate my discomfort with the way the term “homelessness” is conventionally used. I will argue that it is a crude and inadequately descriptive piece of shorthand that we use when we really mean visible urban poverty. I believe that our reliance on this euphemism reflects a general and problematic queasiness about confronting the real experiences of the poorest members of our community. At the same time, it diminishes our capacity to understand and adequately address the problems we are trying to describe.The Twin Cities metro area, and especially Hennepin County, offers some of the best services for homeless people available anywhere in the United States. The combination of our brutal winter climate and our somewhat unique social and political history has made our metro, perhaps paradoxically, one of the safest places to live without a permanent address. Continue Reading

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Nursing to stop taking transfers

Come fall 2017, transfer students won’t be accepted into the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program on the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus. The School of Nursing is phasing out transfer enrollment for the BSN program in an effort to improve graduation rates. Though the decision has been in the works for three years, nursing students are concerned the new strategy could be a blow to the program’s diversity and limit access to the program to a group of students who tend to switch out of the program. The school will admit fewer transfers, including those from inside the University, and more incoming freshmen over the next two years, said School of Nursing Associate Dean for Academic Programs Christine Mueller. Faculty members who made the change didn’t ask for student input, she said. By fall 2017, the entire incoming BSN class at the Twin Cities campus is expected to consist of 104 freshmen admits.  The University’s Rochester campus will still accept transfers, who do the same coursework as those on the school’s flagship campus.  Administrators want to provide students with the best resources possible to ensure they graduate in four years, Mueller said, adding that students who directly enroll in the BSN program are more likely to graduate on time.  Nursing senior Karen Maldonado drafted a petition to rescind the program change and organized a public forum last week where students could air their concerns to the school’s dean, Connie Delaney. “This policy as it stands now is not helpful to the School of Nursing, the future students or the nursing profession,” she said. “But I think with the right adjustments, it can help bring down the over-four-year graduation rate and the cost of attending nursing school.” About 20 people attended the forum, mostly sophomores and juniors in the BSN program, Maldonado said. Students largely took issue with the potential for a decline in student diversity as a result of the freshman nursing guarantee. They also voiced concerns about the lack of rigor in the freshman application process compared to the transfer one.  Despite student concerns, Mueller said, the new program is still on track for implementation. Twin Cities campus instructors give lessons to BSN students on the Rochester campus via television screens, which Maldonado said is troubling to some students because it limits teacher-to-student interaction. Maldonado’s petition, which has been in circulation for about two weeks, had garnered more than 270 signatures by Wednesday. Most of the names on the petition belong to sophomores and juniors in the BSN program. One of the petition’s signers is nursing sophomore Irina Galyayeva, who transferred into the BSN program last spring. When Galyayeva first learned of the change, she didn’t think it was real. “I don’t get why they’re doing this because they can gain a lot from those transfer students,” she said. Continue Reading