The Free Press, Mankato, MN

December 15, 2012

Nicollet County considers new children’s facility for developmentally disabled

By Brian Ojanpa
Free Press Staff Writer

ST PETER — An effort is under way in Nicollet County to open an intermediate care facility for the region’s developmentally disabled children.

Those children now must travel to facilities in Red Wing and La Crosse, Wis., for care, a trek that takes it toll on families.

“People burn out. It just wears them down,” said Nicollet County Social Services Supervisor Barb Christenson, who is heading the push for a five-bed site.

She said there is no such facility in south-central Minnesota, and while impacted children and their families can avail themselves of in-home services, sometimes that’s just not enough.

Dist. 23 State Sen. Kathy Sheran of Mankato said the dearth of intermediate care sites in the state is a significant problem for affected children, and she plans to present a bill before the Legislature in January to channel state funds toward establishment of a Nicollet County facility.

She said the goal of the bill push is to fund the project by redistributing existing funding for a so-called bed unit in another county to augment Nicollet County’s bed allotment. The key is to not involve any “new” money.

“If we can do that, we have a pretty good chance of it succeeding,” she said.

Christenson said the five-bed, 24-hour care home would be in a residential setting and would serve children from age 7 to late teens who suffer from developmental disabilities such as autism and Asperger’s syndrome.

Unlike the distant facilities affected area families must now travel to for care, the proximity of the Nicollet County site would be a game-changer for them, Christenson said.

“People could still be involved daily with their children’s lives, and still go home to sleep in their own beds at night.”

Intermediate care facilities for developmentally disabled children bridge the gap between in-home therapies and crisis intervention care settings in  medical facilities.

Christenson said intermediate facilities also allow a respite for families when the burdens of caregiving, combined with job demands and other family responsibilities, weigh too heavily.

“These parents go through tremendous emotional roller coasters,” Christenson said.