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Safety grants could help defend human services providers from workplace violence

Go to work. Get punched. Go to work. Get kicked. Go to work. Get assaulted.

For many human service workers, this is life on the clock. In more extreme cases, employees have even been raped or murdered.

That’s why Rep. Luke Frederick (DFL-Mankato) sponsors HF1494 that would appropriate $20 million over the 2024-25 biennium to the Department of Human Services for workplace safety grants.

The House Human Services Policy Committee approved the bill Wednesday after adopting a delete-all amendment. It was referred to the House Human Services Finance Committee.

Frederick has worked 18 years at the St. Peter Regional Treatment Center. He has been assaulted and watched some co-workers receive injuries that disable them to this day.

Nevertheless, he says the overwhelming majority of people with mental health challenges receiving care are peaceful and not a source of violence. He wants to avoid stigmatizing or generalizing people with mental illnesses. The bill would address the few who are aggressive.

Selected applicants could receive between $5,000 and $100,000 for:

  • training providers;
  • attaining and installing safety equipment;
  • establishing and implementing an internal data incident tracking system;
  • supplying providers with support services, counseling and additional resources;
  • improving facility safety, such as barrier protection or a threat and vulnerability review; and
  • any other services, resources, training or mitigation measures the department may deem necessary.

Grants would be awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis, with at least 40% of the onetime awards falling outside the metro area.

Eligible workplaces would include those that provide services for children, families, vulnerable adults, older adults and people with disabilities, as well as facilities offering behavioral health care, social services or related care.

Mason Schlief, a care coordinator at Zumbro Valley Health Center, said human services workplaces normalize the lack of safety precautions, including a physical attack she endured.

She wishes she could have had access to safety measures like de-escalation training.

“I think if I had these resources, I would have been better able to protect both myself and my client.”

Although countless workers advocate for their safety, many are accused of exaggerating, described as poor workers or declared bad people, said Michelle SanCartier, director of public policy and advocacy at the Minnesota Social Service Association.

SanCartier says society should value these professionals who experience trauma, such as threats, stalking and sexual harassment. “Human services providers will be needed more than ever and they’re not going to tolerate working in positions that don’t ensure their safety.”

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