U works toward neighborhood clinic

The University plans to address mental health treatment as part of a north-side partnership.

Odessa Youngs, a lifelong resident of north Minneapolis, sought treatment for depression a few years ago, but gave up after discovering a lengthy waiting list at the NorthPoint Health & Wellness Center.

Youngs, 49, said she thinks psychological problems are an issue in her community, but waiting lists at north Minneapolis clinics can be discouraging.

“If you have to wait that long, you’ve either committed suicide or talked yourself out of it,” she said.

In an effort to address economic and educational disparity as well as mental health issues in north Minneapolis, the University has joined with businesses and clinics as part of its Northside Partnership program.

But some researchers and community members say years of bad blood between the community and the University could be a barrier to change.

Robert Jones, senior vice president for system administration at the University, said the University is aware of community concerns.

“People in communities of color are very distrustful of large, complex bureaucracies,” he said.

Jones said the initiative was created in conjunction with Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak’s pledge to revitalize the neighborhoods of north Minneapolis.

The University can offer resources to the community, Jones said.

“There are numerous problems that that community faces which the University should be able to partner with the community to address: issues of poverty, domestic violence and maltreatment,” he said.

Although early discussion has centered on the mental health component, the University’s plan also will address early childhood education and economic development.

Jones said the project would involve new construction or renovation of existing buildings.

The timeline for the project is still unknown, but Jones said forums and information sessions with residents will give the University an idea of when they can start.

“We hope to know by June if we have a project,” he said.

Jones said the University has put forth about $300,000 in planning money thus far.

Hope for families

With the highest rate of out-of-home placement in the state, Hennepin County spends about $70 million a year in north Minneapolis placing kids in foster homes, said Gary Cunningham, chief executive of NorthPoint Health & Wellness.

“We know that the results for kids in foster care aren’t that good,” he said.

NorthPoint, a nonprofit medical center in north Minneapolis offering medical, dental, mental health options and social services to 56,000 patients a year, will partner with the University to create a family center.

In May 2005 the University hired Dante Cicchetti, a national leader in developmental psychology, as a professor in the Institute of Child Development and planned director of the center.

The University and Cicchetti hope to open the facility, which will offer therapies and interventions for children and families, in 2008.

In 1979 Cicchetti founded a similar center, Mt. Hope in Rochester, N.Y. He said that center used research to provide better treatment to patients and a center in north Minneapolis would do the same.

“Research was done to learn more so that our interventions could be better. When we had a good idea that these were areas that needed help, we applied (the research) to interventions,” Cicchetti said.

Community response

Chakahn Ethridge, who has lived in north Minneapolis since 2001, said she wants to see support for parents and safe places for families to go.

“We need more parenting classes and stuff like that to help people be better parents so child services doesn’t need to get involved,” she said.

Lorenzo Wilson, 66, said he just wants to see anything that will keep kids off the streets.

Wilson lives in St. Paul but spends most of his time in north Minneapolis. “I hate to see kids get hurt,” he said.

Although neither of the community members had heard about the Northside Partnership, they agreed a family center would be an asset to the community.

But Cunningham said people who have been “historically pretty reactionary” have voiced opposition to the project. Cunningham said he met some of them to discuss the project and found their arguments “irrational.”

“To compare Dante’s work at Mt. Hope to Tuskegee is really ludicrous and is pandering to some fears that of course, historically, African Americans have been used as guinea pigs in experiments,” Cunningham said.

Unethical research such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, conducted from 1932 to 1972, which left 400 black men untreated for syphilis without their knowledge, has been pointed to as a cause for distrust within the black community.

“Yes, Tuskegee happened; it was a horrible thing; I can’t go back there and change that. What I can do is work right now in a way that is ethical, that has integrity and that really focuses on the customers and the clients and the patients,” Cunningham said.

Barriers to research

University researchers said institutions across the country – regardless of their good intentions – have been guilty of not conducting research in a respectful way and could do more to gain the trust of the community.

Bernadette Longo, a professor of rhetoric who has worked for three years with Angela Dawson, director of the Northside Food Project, said the problem isn’t isolated to the University.

“The (academic community) is a really isolated place traditionally,” Longo said. “It’s not surprising that a bunch of academics don’t play well together. We’re never taught to.”

Dawson said she and Longo have recommended the University come up with a protocol for dealing with the community.

“Bernadette and other people are branded with this University thing,” Dawson said. “Neighbors are looking at (researchers) like they’re representing this big monstrous university, and they don’t know if they can trust her.”

William Turner, a family and social science professor, worked with the NorthPoint clinic on the NorthPoint Best Practices Project, which looked at interventions in families with at-risk characteristics.

Turner, who is not affiliated with the Northside Partnership, has written about the barriers that come up when researchers attempt to work within nonwhite communities.

“Many communities of color see large research universities as places where people come in, grab data, exploit participants, get the information they want and never see them again,” he said.

Turner said universities also don’t always acknowledge the community’s own expertise in diagnosing what people’s problems really are.

“I think that those communities are right to be suspicious and I think it’s a healthy trait that they have some suspicion,” he said.

Current partnerships

A service learning class through the General College connects University students with volunteer opportunities in north Minneapolis.

Tyler Berres, a first-year General College student, works with children in foster care at the Jerry Gamble Boys & Girls Club. He said he thinks parents and children could benefit from the University’s resources.

“Family counseling would be useful,” Berres said.

Some people involved with the partnership said north Minneapolis’ relations with the University might have eroded after the announcement of the dissolution of the General College.

Berres said he thinks the University should make admitting students from the surrounding urban areas a priority.

“I went to (a St. Paul public high school) and probably half of the kids from my school (who attend the University) are in the General College,” he said.

NorthPoint CEO Cunningham said he also thinks there is still some skepticism about the University in the community.

“Clearly, the ‘U’ just closed the General College, which I was opposed to as well. The University hasn’t always been great, but with this partnership, the ‘U’ has taken a very careful, community-based approach,” he said.

Gaining trust

Professor Turner said developing a relationship between University researchers and the community is the first step toward gaining the community’s trust.

“I think it would be very helpful if they would include in their planning people who are knowledgeable about cultural differences in the community, and if they could engage more members of that community,” he said.

University Senior Vice President for system administration Jones said the University is planning discussion forums with residents of north Minneapolis.

“We’re scheduling a number of listening sessions with the community,” he said.

Cicchetti said he will address residents’ concerns through open communication.

“I think the strategy is to go talk. If (residents’) concerns are to make sure nothing hurtful happens in that center, it won’t and they’ll be happy,” he said.

Cunningham said NorthPoint conducted a “listening project” with 400 residents to get input on issues in the community. Five meetings inviting community members to discuss the partnership are planned for May.

He emphasized all research will be strictly voluntary and participants will be told how the research will be used.

“It would also be reprehensible if we did something to violate the trust of our patients,” Cunningham said.

“Every family, regardless of their economic status, is looking out for the interests of their children,” he said.

Moving the community forward is the goal of the partnership, Cunningham said.

“If we don’t address some of the major issues in this fundamental area, what we’re doing is feeding inter-generational poverty.”