State picks up Carlton County’s Txt4Life initiativeThe TXT4Life program is about to go viral. Carlton County Health and Human Services Director Dave Lee informed members of the Carlton County Board Tuesday that the Minnesota State Legislature successfully passed a bill that will provide $2.5 million over the next two bienniums to expand the region’s successful teen suicide prevention and intervention program to a statewide initiative.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
The TXT4Life program is about to go viral. Carlton County Health and Human Services Director Dave Lee informed members of the Carlton County Board Tuesday that the Minnesota State Legislature successfully passed a bill that will provide $2.5 million over the next two bienniums to expand the region’s successful teen suicide prevention and intervention program to a statewide initiative.
“This is really good news for the state,” commented Lee, who testified before the Senate Finance Committee on behalf of the bill.
Lee said thanks to the newly approved state funding, the program will now be expanded to reach students in high schools, colleges and universities throughout Minnesota by adding regional coordinators, trained text responders and additional support staff. He added the National Guard is also interested in possibly making the program available to its military and civilian population, particularly in the 18- to 24-year-old age bracket, since suicide is a problem in their ranks as well.
“Right now, we are still in the midst of talks with them,” said Lee, but he said the relationship would be a logical extension of the up-and-coming program.
Lee said the rapid success of the TXT4Life program in Minnesota is already the envy of other states that have spent several years trying to get similar programs established. He said he owes the success of the recent state legislation to the outstanding coalition supporting it, including the Minnesota School Counselors Association, mental health centers throughout the state, faith communities, non-profit organizations and the state-wide tribal association. He said State Senator Tony Lourey helped co-author the bill and added that District 11A Representative Mike Sundin was instrumental in securing bipartisan support for it.
“This is one of the biggest expansions of suicide prevention funding anywhere,” he commented.
Essentially, the program picks up where suicide crisis phone lines leave off — meeting young people right where they’re at when it comes to today’s electronic communication. The reasoning is simple — teens who would never consider calling the existing suicide crisis line to speak to someone in person are far more likely to seek help via the comparative ease and anonymity of text messaging. When they text in, they are linked to a trained support person who helps talk them through that critical 10-minute window considered to be vital in saving lives and providing needed support.
The TXT4Life program was initially spearheaded by Carlton County Health and Human Services and piloted in the seven-county area of northeastern Minnesota. It was funded through a $1.4 million federal grant secured in August 2011. Since that time, Lee said it has been expanding rapidly. He reported that an average of the some 300-350 texts a month have been received from teens either considering suicide or having a hard time dealing with other relationship or family issues. Over 800 referrals have been made for mental health or non-mental health services over the course of the past year through the TXT4Life program, and that number is growing.
Although the initial emphasis of the program has been focused in northeast Minnesota, Lee said word of it has spread through social media and the line has received texts from youth and young adults in 48 of Minnesota’s 87 counties.
Commissioners congratulated Lee on the success of the statewide initiative and thanked him for the role he played in it, along with that of Representative Sundin, who was also in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting.
In other matters, the board unanimously passed a resolution to act as fiscal agent in applying for a $47 million TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Sundin explained that the grant program, geared toward investing in road, rail, transit and port projects, would be used toward improving Highway 73 between Moose Lake and Cromwell, which has long been a treacherous stretch of highway.
“Even if we can get the funding in increments, it would get the ball rolling for this project,” said Sundin.
He explained the city of Moose Lake has agreed to submit the application for the grant, due June 3, and assured the board there would be no legwork required or fiscal impact on the county if it agrees to act as fiscal agent for the grant application.
County Engineer Mike Tardy commented that the state awarded only one TIGER grant last year, to a Twin Cities metropolitan area project.
“There is definitely a need here,” Tardy said, “and this would be one way to get resources to Highway 73.”
In other business to come before the board, Lee provided follow-up information to commissioners regarding questions posed by Commissioner Gary Peterson at the last meeting regarding staffing numbers and organizational setup of the county’s Health and Human Services Department relative to other counties in the state.
At that time, Peterson questioned why Carlton County’s Health and Human Services Department is so big, pointing out the county is among the top in the state for number of employees per population numbers, with many similar-size counties showing far fewer employees.
Lee explained that many factors go into the staffing numbers as recorded by the state via its Minnesota Merit listing. He said in some counties such as neighboring St. Louis County, many Health and Human Services staff members who are not social workers are employed through the Civil Service System and, as such, their positions aren’t recorded under health and human services in the state listing.
Other counties, he said, are in the process of bringing their numbers up to more realistic levels after a regional analysis found them to be understaffed. Still others contract out various health and human services positions such as adult and children’s mental health workers, while some combine with other counties or enter into contractual arrangements with other outside entities to provide services, making it appear as though their health and human services are smaller in numbers than they actually are.