Law enforcement has continued to be called to the Nexus-Mille Lacs Family Healing facility, formerly known as the Mille Lacs Nexus Academy, on numerous occasions for violence and escape by juveniles from the facility.
The Nexus-Mille Lacs facility is a treatment facility for troubled youth with sexual, emotional, behavioral problems and special needs, located in Onamia.
Police reports in 2020 show resident-on-resident violence, resident-on-staff violence, numerous accounts of juvenile runners from the facility, property destruction within the facility, terroristic threats by residents against other residents and staff, escapes that lead to the climbing of the cell tower in Onamia on 357th Street, fist fight outbreaks and assault among numerous youth in the facility in one setting, and residents spraying staff members with a fire extinguisher.
The facility has had a history of prior incidents.
Incidents toward the end of 2019 included violence against staff members sending them to the emergency room along with death threats. In September of 2019, a riot occured at the facility in which residents had barricaded doors and assaulted staff members, requiring five law enforcement agencies to respond.
Statements given by Mille Lacs Nexus staff members to law enforcement indicated feelings of an unsafe environment for themselves and other residents, along with being instructed not to call law enforcement.
A new Nexus-Mille Lacs director, Shannon Amundson, took over in January of 2020 with hopes of curtailing the violence.
When asked about the continued incidents, Amundson said that this year has been especially challenging with the pandemic, not only for the troubled youth but also for staff. “For youth in residential treatment, the pandemic has heightened feelings of confinement, caused a change in routine and limited opportunities to see families and loved ones. This type of situation magnifies struggles of those already suffering from mental health issues,” said Amundson.
She said regardless of these challenges, the academy has made progress towards improving stability and that year-to-date calls to law enforcement and incidents of aggressive behavior reflect a double-digit decline compared with 2019.
A data request to the Onamia Police Department (OPD) revealed that in 2019, the department was called to the facility a total of 101 times. Total year-to-date calls have surpassed last year’s calls and are currently, through Nov. 19, at 127 calls. The police department did not specify what category the calls fall into and said one call may have included both OPD and the Sheriff’s Department responding.
Amundson added that Mille Lacs County has been incredibly supportive in evaluating the needs of their programs and increasing staffing ratios. And since August, the facility has added additional staff, implemented employee retention programs, and managed admissions to maintain appropriate staff/youth ratios.
“Ongoing trauma training continues to be a top priority for our staff. By addressing the history of trauma and teaching kids valuable coping skills, we can help them to put their lives on the right track,” said Amundson. “Since early 2020, Tom Woll, a renowned expert on trauma and youth in residential facilities, has consulted with our leadership team. We have developed and recently started to train a new behavior management program that is trauma-informed and youth-driven. We are setting new goals and metrics to ensure accountability. And, in October, we launched a new youth advisory committee to more directly involve our youth in the changes we are making. Our program teaches, coaches and guides, giving kids individualized tools they need to succeed in life.”
Amundson added that the facility is committed to earning the community’s continued trust through transparency and their actions. “We meet regularly with the mayor, the chief of police and a member of the city council,” said Amundson. “The nature of the work that we do at Nexus-Mille Lacs will never be without its challenges. But we know that our efforts to restore hope and reshape futures have lasting benefits for our families and community.”
Onamia Chief of Police Bob Matzke and the Onamia City Council declined to make a statement about the ongoing issues with the facility.