- Associated Press - Thursday, March 10, 2016

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Minnesota recently experienced a sharp drop in the use of restraints in the state’s group homes and programs for people with disabilities, according to a new report.

The report, which state officials filed last week in federal court, shows that incidents of restraint, seclusion and other restrictive measures dropped from 8,602 two years ago to 5,124 in the most recent fiscal year.

The 40 percent drop in the use of restrictive procedures is a result of changes in state law and an effort by state and county officials to stop the use of punitive techniques widely seen as inhumane, the Star Tribune (https://strib.mn/1LTTGoR ) reported.

Even though the use of restraints persists, the recent reduction marks a shift in the way small group homes and other state-licensed facilities control behavior.

“This is a paradigm shift, and something that we have wanted to see for a very, very long time,” said Roberta Opheim, of the state Ombudsman Office for Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities.



The news comes eight years after reports first surfaced of metal handcuffs and leg shackles being used as punishment in state facilities.

In 2008, Opheim’s office reported that scores of residents at a state-operated facility in Cambridge, known as the Minnesota Extended Treatment Options, were frequently handcuffed, placed in leg irons or isolated in seclusion rooms as punishment. Some of the cases involved residents who were restrained for minor behavioral issues such as touching a pizza box, bumping into someone or threatening to run away.

One resident at the Cambridge facility was restrained nearly 300 times in a one-year period.

After a federal class-action lawsuit by the facility’s residents and their families led to a huge settlement, Minnesota changed state law in 2014 to prohibit a long list of restrictive procedures, from leg shackles and handcuffs to prone restraints. The state Department of Human Services also launched an unprecedented outreach and training effort across the state.

Despite the recent strides, some experts warn that the Minnesota still needs to address other issues, like the statewide shortage of people trained to care for people with developmental disabilities.

“I am cautiously optimistic that we’re on the right track,” Opheim said, “but we still have a long ways to go.”

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Information from: Star Tribune, https://www.startribune.com

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