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Traffic deaths up statewide, but continue downward slide

ST. PAUL — Traffic deaths in Minnesota increased 6% last year, but continue a downward trend over a five-year period, according to a state report released Thursday.

Overall, 381 deaths were among the 79,215 reported crashes in 2018, with speed being the top factor in 113 of those deaths, the state report Minnesota Motor Vehicle Crash Facts said. Failing to buckle up resulted in 96 deaths, while 84 deaths were tied to impaired driving and 29 to distractions. Fifty-eight of those killed were on a motorcycle while 45 were pedestrians.

For the second year in a row, there were no fatal crashes in Rice County, though the number injured in vehicular crashes rose from 2017 to 2018. Last year, 65 were injured in crashes in the county. The year prior, that number was 41. Another 105 crashes resulted in property damage.

The numbers are the result of a lot of hard work by law enforcement and dedicated volunteers, notably Lonsdale’s Nancy Johnson and Kathy Cooper, of Northfield. Both became advocates after losing daughters in drunken-driving crashes. Cooper, now coordinator of the county’s Safe Roads Coalition, credits Johnson and the Fette family of Faribault, whose 16-year-old son Greg was killed by a drunken driver in 1984 with pushing for stronger traffic safety laws.

“Those two families, I always say they stormed the state of Minnesota and created many of the programs we have today,” Cooper said earlier this year.

From 2002-06 and from 2008-11, Rice County was considered one of the 13 deadliest in the state. Following the designation, law enforcement from across the county ,along with representatives from Public Health and the County Attorney’s Office, helped develop and implement programs, including a sober cab, mock crashes at the high schools, a joy ride bus for Northfield’s Defeat of Jesse James Days and collaborations with St. Olaf College students.

Cooper and Rice County Sheriff Troy Dunn says they made a real and important difference.

“It’s a community effort to have everybody on board, not just locally, but regionally and statewide,” Dunn said this spring.

In 2000, there were 20 deaths on Rice County roads. Of those, 12 were caused by impaired driving. There were six traffic fatalities in Rice County in 2016, four of those were alcohol-related.

“I think Rice County has been very, very committed in so many ways on working on impaired driving,” said Cooper. “It takes a lot to change the norms.”

So far in 2019, 223 deaths have been reported statewide, compared to 218 at this time a year ago.

From 2009-13, Minnesota saw an average of 396 deaths per year. The last five years had had an average of 381, a 4% decrease, according to state statistics.

“Our goal is to drive Minnesota traffic deaths to zero,” said Mike Hanson, Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety director. “We can’t reach that goal through enforcement alone. We need the help of every driver and everyone on the road. We are losing too many of our friends and family members to completely preventable events. Help drive the traffic fatalities down by doing your part. That means always buckling up, driving hands-free and putting the distractions away, always lining up a sober ride and driving the speed limit or according to the conditions of the road.”

Forum News Service contributed to this report.

Staffers take a swing at new HealthFinders clinic during 'groundbreaking

With State Rep. Brian Daniels (R-Faribault), State Sen. John Jasinski (R-Faribault) and other community leaders on hand Wednesday, HealthFinders Collaborative ceremonially “broke ground” on its new clinic. Or rather, smashed walls.

Because the structure which will become the new clinic exists, but needs renovations, HealthFinders staff and several others took turns knocking out pieces of drywall in preparation for the upcoming modifications.

The clinic, located at 1415 Town Square Lane in Faribault, is expected to open later this year. It will offer 9,000 square feet of space, compared to just 2,000 square feet at HealthFinders’ current Faribault location at 223 Central Ave. This significant increase will help HealthFinders fill a growing need for health services among marginalized populations in the Faribault area. HealthFinders also has a clinic in Northfield, at 710 Division St.

At the new location, the number of dental chairs will increase from two to six, enabling the community health clinic to accommodate demand for one of its most popular programs. The new facility will also have more room to provide patients with basic medical services including mental health care and treatment for opiate addiction, as well as a community kitchen for nutrition classes and a wellness room.

Both of HealthFinders’ offices are staffed largely by volunteer providers, nurses and interpreters. With providers fluent in English, Spanish and Somali, the organization works closely with area hospitals to promote health and wellness for all Rice County residents.

HealthFinders Executive Director Charlie Mandile emphasized that in its new facility, HealthFinders will continue to focus not only on providing basic health services, but on promoting health and wellness throughout the community.

“We came together to solve the question of not, ‘How do we open up a clinic?’ but ‘How do we help our patients and community be healthier?’” said Mandile. “This idea is really as much a part of us today as it has ever been.”

Clinic in the church basement

HealthFinders’ origins date back to 2002, when a group of community leaders identified access to health care for marginalized communities in Rice County as a significant issue in need of a solution. In 2004, HealthFinders incorporated as a 501 © (3) nonprofit organization and began fundraising with the goal of opening a community health clinic. The next year, HealthFinders opened in the basement of Dundas’ Little Prairie Church.

With help from local hospitals, clinics and pharmacies, as well as various nonprofit organizations and generous donors, the church basement clinic served the health care needs of patients for more than a decade. HealthFinders added the Central Avenue location in Faribault in 2012, and later replaced the Dundas location with larger facilities in Northfield, which enabled it to dramatically increase its footprint in Rice County.

Earlier this year, HealthFinders received a $1 million gift from the Delta Dental Foundation of Minnesota, enabling it to purchase the significantly larger building in Faribault. The building, which previously served as an office of the architectural and engineering firm ISG, will be remodeled to suit the needs of patients. The new clinic’s design will be informed by over a year of consultations with HealthFinders patients and community members.

To complete the remodel, HealthFinders has hired Faribault’s ProCon construction team. Rice County Commissioner and longtime Faribault City Council member Steve Underdahl will supervise the project. Underdahl praised HealthFinders’s mission and achievements in increasing health outcomes in Rice County.

“Obviously there’s many choices that people have for health care but there’s a lot of unmet needs,” Underdahl noted. “I think HealthFinders has really done a great job of meeting that for some of our populations.”

While Faribault Mayor Kevin Voracek and Councilor Royal Ross had to leave the event early to attend the evening’s City Council meeting, Northfield Mayor Rhonda Pownell was able to get in a few words at the groundbreaking ceremony. Pownell expressed her gratitude for all that the organization has done to improve health outcomes across Rice County.

“We are so excited about this vision of making sure that health is available to all people where they’re at,” Pownell said. “Open, safe, welcoming communities where all people can thrive, that’s absolutely essential, and I just want to commend you for your vision.”

Keith Schrader, left, shows Budi Arinardi and Samudra Arinardi around his Wheeling Township farm Monday. (Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council)

Faribault MCA results show subtle improvements over 2017-18

While Faribault Public School continue to fall below average in reading and math comprehension, the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) results released Thursday indicate subtle improvements at individual district buildings.

In particular, English Learner (EL) students at Faribault Middle School showed a sharp increase in reading and math proficiency between 2017-18 and 2018-19. Where averages fell between 5 and 10% in 2017-18, 15% of EL students at the middle school met or exceeded proficiency in reading while 21% met or exceeded proficiency in math last year.

On the other hand, math and reading proficiency remains low at FHS, where averages fell between 6 and 7% in 2018.

According to Director of Teaching and Learning Ryan Krominga, the reading and math comprehension of EL students depends on how long they’ve been in the country. Students who’ve been in the U.S. longer tend to perform at higher levels.

“[That score] can jump up and down depending on the group of students who come in,” said Krominga.

Reading scores in grades three through five increased by 17% across the district with Jefferson fifth-graders at the highest reading proficiency, 57%. Lincoln fifth-graders had the highest math scores of all elementary students in the district at 54%.

Of all students across the state who completed MCA testing, an average of 56% met or exceeded proficiency in math and 59% met or exceeded proficiency in reading comprehension over the prior three years.

Faribault High School averaged 34% in math and 42% in reading while Faribault Middle School averaged 39% in math and 43% in reading. These numbers represent the percentage of students over the past three years who met or surpassed proficiency levels in math and reading. That means comparing scores from one year to the next doesn’t measure students’ progress so much as it compares one group of students to another.

At Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt Elementary Schools, between 34 and 45% of students showed proficiency in math, while between 34 and 48% of students showed proficiency in reading with Lincoln leading the schools with the highest rates. That’s an improvement from the year prior, when averages fell between 33 and 40% for math and 28.5 and 43% for reading.

At Discovery Public School of Faribault, 38 percent of students showed math proficiency and 49 percent showed reading proficiency. Cannon River STEM School scores are more comparable with the state numbers as an average of 49 percent showed proficiency in math while 64 percent were proficient in reading.

Since last year, scoring for the MCA also measures students’ progress with a point system. Each student meets, doesn’t meet, partially meets or exceeds proficiency levels in math and reading, and earns points for how much they improve. The state then calculates the average points of students at each school.

Last year, Minnesota’s North Star accountability system began offering additional support to schools whose students struggle more than others. Four of of Faribault’s schools qualified for added support, which continues for the next two years. Faribault High School qualifies for comprehensive support while Jefferson Elementary and the special education departments at Lincoln and Roosevelt Elementary Schools have received targeted support. After the 2020-21 school year, MDE will re-evaluate schools to see which ones still need the support.

Krominga said the Striving Readers Literacy Grant from the Minnesota Department of Education, which became effective last year, has especially helped the results “stay flatlined” rather than decreasing. Literacy coaches have worked in each building to help teachers develop specific strategies in all subjects and increase awareness of students’ struggles.

“In terms of the state of Minnesota moving into a continuous improvement process, we realize that takes more than one year,” said Krominga. “Hopefully with some of the evidence-based practices, we’ll start seeing changes in the next couple years.”