Editorial Recap: Minnesota – StarTribune.com

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Minneapolis Tribune of Stars. July 16, 2022.

Editorial: The state medical board is a campaign target

GOP gubernatorial candidate Jensen calls him a “juggernaut,” but he’s been too passive under Walz.

Bruce Anderson didn’t know the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice existed when his wife died of cancer in 2018. But his search for answers since then about why doctors took so long to diagnose his condition has made many him an activist.

Dissatisfied with the handling of his complaint against three of his wife’s doctors, Anderson monitors the board’s proceedings. He has contacted Gov. Tim Walz and lawmakers about possible reforms and is attending a medical board roundtable led by a patient safety organization.

“Accountability is lacking across the country, but in my experience, it’s really bad in Minnesota,” said Anderson, a retired business executive and college instructor who lives in St. Cloud.

A national ranking of state medical boards by consumer advocacy group Public Citizen agrees with Anderson’s assessment, placing Minnesota near the bottom when it comes to serious disciplinary action against individual physicians. While the council’s executive director disputes the value of that ranking, concerns shared by Anderson and Public Citizen are important context for the recent fiery criticism of the council by Republican gubernatorial candidate Dr. Scott Jensen.

Jensen is a Chaska family doctor who has questioned the death toll from COVID-19, promoted the off-label use of ivermectin to treat the virus, and called for a “ban on private sector vaccination mandates. “. He also spoke at an anti-vaccine rally in Minnesota last year and urged those listening to “be as dangerous as possible.”

In a recent video posted to social media, Jensen said he was being investigated by the state board for the fifth time. He filed several grievances, objecting that the council’s investigation took too long and that anonymity was granted to those who complained.

In the video, Jensen calls the board a “juggernaut” and says it “will be dealt with.” He also notes that the 16 members of the council are appointed by the governor. A June 16 tweet accompanying the video reads, “Council reform. Right now. This process will change when I’m governor.”

The use of the word “juggernaut,” in particular, raises concerns that Jensen sees the advice as too aggressive. As well as being the name of a fictional Marvel Comics character, juggernaut can refer to “a massive, inexorable force, campaign, movement, or object that crushes anything in its path,” such as as defined by Merriam-Webster.

It is a disturbing view of a medical council whose mission is to protect “the health and safety of the public by ensuring that those who practice medicine or as allied health professionals are competent and ethical practitioners with the knowledge and skills necessary for their title and role.

While Jensen is entitled to his views, his views run counter to long-standing concerns about whether the advice is tough enough. A 2012 Star Tribune news series raised troubling questions about whether the council is protecting doctors rather than patients. “In Minnesota, a doctor must meet the minimum standard to avoid state discipline. And when a doctor is caught making a mistake, the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice often gives a second chance,” revealed series.

The articles commendably generated bipartisan alarm at the state Capitol. But that spotlight hasn’t stopped Anderson’s dismal experience, and Minnesota continues to lag at the bottom of the periodic Public Citizen rankings. The council’s executive director, Ruth Martinez, played down those rankings. “Citizens of Minnesota should not be concerned about the board’s ranking by Public Citizen, which is strictly quantitative and provides no context regarding the board’s investigative processes or the quality of Minnesota’s healthcare professionals.”

In a brief interview with a columnist, Jensen said his concerns weren’t necessarily about the medical board, but about an agency that has been “armed.” For someone who has been critical of the council and intends to reform it, he was surprisingly uninformed about Public Citizen rankings. When asked if he would read that organization’s 15-page report or the earlier Star Tribune coverage and get back to the columnist, Jensen said he was too busy.

He also declined to say whether he would consider, for example, appointing two high-profile Minnesota vaccine skeptics to the board if elected. One of them, Mark Blaxill, has written books on this issue and served as Minnesota Republican Party treasurer. Another, Dr Bob Zajac, was disciplined by the board in 2021 for discouraging vaccines. Zajac donated to Jensen’s campaign, and his Facebook page shows him, Jensen and Matt Birk, Jensen’s choice for lieutenant governor.

Neither Blaxill nor Zajac would be appropriate. A discussion of board reforms is timely and welcome and should spark continued debate in the gubernatorial campaign. Walz is also fair game for questions on the board, as he has appointed or reappointed all current members (although there is one vacancy).

To be clear, any change should result in stronger advice to protect patients. What is not needed is one who responds even more timidly to complaints.

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Mankato Free Press. July 18, 2022.

Editorial: Mental health: the new suicide prevention, a step forward

A new national suicide prevention and mental health counseling hotline is a welcome development given the rise in mental health cases and the prevalence of suicide.

The new three-digit phone number – 988 – is easier to remember than the old 800 number, and it comes with the hope that more people will get help by dialing or texting the number.

The goal will be to connect Minnesota callers to Minnesota call centers so they can be directed to Minnesota-specific resources.

Blue Earth, Nicollet and Brown counties are included in the region with a call center in Carver County just north of the Mankato area. The new number should generate 25% more calls due to its easy recall.

A Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that people with symptoms of anxiety and depression have increased from around 10% in normal times to 40% during the pandemic.

The challenge will be to ensure that there are enough advisors to handle the volume of calls. Minnesota currently has a 76% response rate for local calls answered by Minnesota counselors. The federal target for states is 90%.

Unfortunately, the Minnesota legislature did not pass additional funding for mental health services that would have increased call center staff. Mental health advocates have said they will push for additional funding next year.

The lack of funding is another casualty of the breakdown of a budget deal that was agreed to by Senate Republicans, Democrats and Gov. Tim Walz. Both sides blame the other for the outage, but whatever the fault, Minnesotans in need of sanity suffer.

The new hotline is a simple way to get people the mental health help they need. It’s a good start, but the legislature is expected to increase funding next year.

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