Call for investigation as African American chemical dependency services providers say Hennepin County referral process is unfair

John Woods (Photo by Brandon Jones)

Hennepin County residents seeking chemical health assistance are offered “culturally competent and specific” programs to meet their needs, according to County officials. But providers of culturally specific services claim that is not what’s happening.

The Minnesota Department of Human Services defines a culturally specific program as one that (a) “address[es] the unique needs of individuals who share a common language, racial, ethnic, or social background; (b) is governed with significant input from individuals of that specific background; and (c) that employs individuals to provide individual or group therapy, at least 50 percent of whom are of that specific background.”

However, an owner-operator of a local Black culturally specific chemical dependency treatment program claims that culturally specific organizations, including his own, are not getting their “fair share” of County referrals.

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“The majority of our clients are African Americans,” says John Woods of New Perspectives Behavioral Health System (NPBHS). He also points out that his organization received less than 100 of over 4,000 total cases reviewed and assigned in 2012 and 2013. He explains that the Hennepin County Chemical Health Review Team, a group of five counselors and a supervisor, makes the determination.

A Hennepin County top administrator points out that the review team includes no person of color.

Assistant Human Services Administrator Rex Holzemer told the MSR that if an individual wants a culturally specific program, their requests are met. “Culturally specific is a question that any good assessor is going to ask the person when they do the assessment,” he explains. “Most assessors in most situations are going to find that whatever treatment program they are working for probably is going to be sufficient to fit the needs of the individual. We accept those recommendations as they have been made by…the assessor.”

Right: Rex Holzemer (Photo courtesy of Hennepin County Public Affairs)

NPBHS assesses the individual in need of service, who may also indicate that they want “culturally specific” treatment for their problem: “We do the paperwork, then we send it down to the review team,” explains Woods. “The review team doesn’t see the client [but] makes the decision on where that client goes.”

However, Woods says only eight cases in 2012 and nine last year “were direct referrals from Hennepin County.” Other Black culturally specific programs are seeing similar declines in County-approved referrals during this time.

“These numbers seem extremely disproportionate,” Woods wrote in a March 12 letter addressed to County officials. He says that one White organization in 2012 received 245 of 618 County-approved cases in which Blacks requested a culturally specific program.

The state’s definition of culturally specific is “[too] general” and might be too vague, surmises NPBHS counselor Tasslean Parker.

“No one particular program should have a monopoly…and Blacks are getting shut out, one by one,” says Woods. He told the MSR last week that a meeting is being set up between him and Hennepin County officials to discuss his concerns. One County-referred case to NPBHS can be worth an estimated $6,000, says Woods. “We deal with African Americans, but [even] when they refer White clients, the numbers still are disapportionate.

“Millions of dollars are being derailed” by Hennepin County not directing more cases to Black-owned chemical treatment programs like his, says Woods. “Everybody is getting rich, and I am just asking that we and other [Black organizations] get our fair share.

“This isn’t about a personal thing but a business thing,” he reiterates. “All we are asking is our fair share, because the system has got to change in some way or justify why the system ought not to change.”

“We are struggling to get people in the door, and we are seeing some of these larger organizations that are predominately White-run organizations are busting at the seams with people of color receiving services from them,” concurs African American Family Services head Thomas Adams in supporting Woods’ contention. “It doesn’t matter who’s on the [review] team,” he says. “We know systems can be biased.” He adds that he would like to see an annual report from the County to show how cases are distributed and their success rates.

Holzemer, however, points out that “data related to treatment outcomes is maintained and published annually by the State Department of Human Services.” The most recent data the MSR was able to obtain was from the calendar year 2012.

Blacks should always get their first preference when they seek help, says Parker. “There are African American treatment [programs] specifically. It’s available to them, but they are not being told [by the County],” she believes. “They must be made aware of that. Then, if they choose not to, that’s a different story.

“That’s one of the things we want from the County. The [review] team is supposed to be deciding where people are supposed to go according to their needs. We want to know why [other programs] get preference over us,” says Parker.

“We are transparent with the community and providers regarding where referrals are made and respond to any inquiry with as much information as we track at the County level related to referrals, denials and changes,” says Holzemer.

“I want to see this matter investigated,” concludes Woods. “I believe that this is a real devastating impact on the Black programs. We are not able to compete — not that we are not qualified, but we are not given our fair share.

“I am willing to go to any lengths to make sure that this situation be addressed.”

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman [at] spokesman-recorder [dot] com.

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    Charles Hallman's picture
    Charles Hallman

    Charles Hallman writes regularly for the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder and blogs at Another View.