Regional News in Review – March 2017by Access Press Staff // March 10th, 2017
Safety concerns highlighted
Some lawmakers are demanding answers after a Fox 9 investigation highlighted safety concerns involving Metro Mobility, a taxpayer-funded ride service for the elderly and people with disabilities. Sandra Kline was seriously hurt after one of her rides. She was trying to exit a lift when it malfunctioned and her wheel chair tipped. She broke her leg and suffered complications.
“I was told I’ll never walk again,” Kline said. Fox 9 made public data requests to find incidents where riders were injured. Videos showed wheelchairs and scooters not properly fastened. One video showed a passenger falling out of an exit onto the group, after an error with a lift. Metro Mobility said the number of these incidents is very small given the millions of trips taken.
Rep. Tony Albright, R – Prior Lake, chairs the legislative commission that oversees the Metropolitan Council. “My goodness, that’s basic and essential to the service that’s provided by this organization and if they’re not doing that, I want to know why,” Albright said. He said state lawmakers would find answers.
Metro Mobility contracts with private companies to provide the bus drivers. Last year one company had a 51 percent turnover rate, another had 42 percent. There have been 244 unsafe driving complaints about the service since 2015. A statement from the organization said “We work daily with our contractors to ensure customer safety is front of mind and that we are taking every precaution to prevent injury.” (Source: KMSP – TV)
Treatment center is sanctioned
The St. Cloud Children’s Home, a mental health treatment center for children and teens, was sanctioned by the state for chronic health and safety violations. One serious and repeated violation is failure to prevent young patients from “head-banging” so persistently that it caused concussions. Noncompliant punishment and unsafe situations were also cited. The center will now only offer day treatment.
The 60-bed residential treatment center operated by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Cloud was sanctioned for violating 33 state rules governing health and safety of vulnerable young patients.
Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) placed the home’s license on conditional status for three years, citing the “nature, chronicity and severity” of the violations.
Head-banging was so persistent and severe that at least three children suffered multiple concussions and head trauma. Children also were subjected to an unusual form of punishment known as “freeze” that was not therapeutic or approved by a mental health professional. During freeze, children who were noncompliant or aggressive were forced to sit in an assigned area for at least 24 hours, even after calming down. They would only return to their rooms at night. One child spent 35 days in freeze in a four-month period.
Stephen Pareja, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Cloud, said an appeal was planned, saying the state failed to take into account improvements made in the past year. The center stopped using the freeze technique nearly a year ago because it was “ineffective,” and has since hired specially trained counselors.
This marks the second time in four years that the center’s license has been placed on conditional status for failing to protect children from serious harm. In early 2012, the site was hit with 46 licensing violations, after state inspectors found that unsupervised children were having sex with each other on the facility grounds.
“How many citations does it take to close a program?” said Roberta Opheim, state ombudsman for mental health and developmental disabilities. “There are enough major violations here that concern the dignity and respect of the children being served that I wonder how long DHS licensing will allow this to go on.” (Source: Star Tribune)
Pilot project helps those with autism
The Autism Society of Minnesota (AuSM) is partnering with Aware Services, LLC and the St. Paul Police Department to offer a free pilot project that uses mobile technology to help individuals with autism and other “invisible disabilities” live more independently and securely in the community.
A new technology-based project called Vulnerable Individuals Technology Assisted Location Service – or VITALS – will be used. VITALS uses a transmitter, or beacon, and a mobile app that allow individuals with an invisible disability to voluntarily disclose their diagnosis to emergency responders within a 30-50 foot radius. Many conditions like autism, traumatic brain injury, mental health challenges, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, epilepsy and others are referred to as invisible disabilities, because there are no physical indicators that emergency responders can see that might inform them of the disability. Such disabilities can put the individuals at risk, because people often exhibit behaviors and traits that emergency responders can misinterpret as being intoxicated, uncooperative or evasive.
AuSM, VITALS and the St. Paul Police Department are launching a limited-time pilot study and are working with individuals with disabilities ages 15 and older. Those involved in the pilot project live in, work in, or go to school in Ramsey County and spend time in the community, independent of a caregiver.
Those selected to participate in this pilot program received one beacon and free service during the pilot test and for up to three months after the test. Details about the program are available on the AuSM website. Learn more and track the program at www.ausm.org. (Source: AuSM)
Score card for assisted living eyed
For decades, Minnesota families seeking senior living arrangements for their elderly loved ones have found themselves casting about in an informational void. But a proposal by the Minnesota Department of Human Services would create the state’s first standardized system for measuring the quality of assisted-living homes — a fast-growing but lightly regulated industry that now serves more than 50,000 Minnesotans in nearly 1,200 facilities.
The proposal would create an online “report card” that would allow people to compare assisted-living facilities based on quality of life, safety and other measures. It would be modeled after an existing report card developed more than a decade ago for nursing homes.
More Minnesotans now live in assisted-living homes than in nursing facilities, but assisted living has largely avoided the same level of regulatory scrutiny.
“You can find more information on a household appliance like a washing machine than on assisted-living homes, and assisted living is a helluva lot more important than washing machines,” said Robert Kane, chair of long-term care and aging at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health, who helped craft Minnesota’s nursing home report card. Kane called the new plan “long overdue.”
The proposal comes amid rising concerns about the safety of older Minnesotans in senior homes across the state. The state Department of Health disclosed that it has fallen dangerously behind in its investigations of abuse and neglect at state-licensed health facilities, including assisted-living homes, since the state launched a centralized abuse reporting hot line. Allegations go unanswered because of a staff shortage, and the queries that do take place take months to complete.
Also, information on the safety of assisted-living facilities is notoriously difficult to locate. As of 2015, there were 30,700 nursing home beds in Minnesota, compared with 54,000 assisted-living beds. “The0 marketplace has really shifted toward assisted living,” said assistant DHS Commissioner Loren Colman. “It’s been growing and we need to pay more attention.”
Under the DHS proposal, the assisted-living report card would include measures from existing data sources, such as state health inspections, as well as information gathered through biennial consumer surveys. The online report card tool would not be ready until 2020. (Source: Star Tribune)
Partial win on docks issue
Minnesota veterans groups, disability advocates and concerned citizens have won a partial victory in a debate with Orono city officials over dock access.
The Orono City Council, after announcing it could remove the accessible docks, announced it would keep the docks in place. But covering the costs will be the responsibility of private donors and not the city.
The accessible docks, which were installed in 2005, provide access for veterans to Big Island on Lake Minnetonka. The docks provide access for wheelchair and walker users to board and leave boats at the park. The docks provide access to an area that was a veteran’s camp.
The City Council initially decided to remove the docks to save $8,000 per year.
“This decision was done without due diligence and is a complete slap in the face to our state’s veteran community,” said Dean Ascheman, Chairman, MN Veterans 4 Veterans Trust Fund. “Big Island has been a refuge for our veterans for nearly a century. This decision was made for political reasons, pure and simple.”
The relationship between Minnesota’s veterans and Big Island dates back more than 90 years when the island was home to the Big Island Veterans Camp. The camp closed in 2003 and proceeds from the 2006 sale to the City of Orono are used to fund veterans programs. Many advocates said that a condition of the sale was that veterans would have access to the island in perpetuity.
“The council can’t legally remove the docks. By doing so they are in breach of the commitment made by the city at the time of the sale,” said Ascheman. “It is so disheartening that the very same men and women who fought for our freedoms are the ones who end up being pawns in a game of politics.” (Source: Sun-Sailor newspaper)
Resort will stay open
Residents of the small Minnesota community of Madison Lake have succeeded in saving a Canadian resort that’s equipped to handle vacationers with disabilities. The Ontario Ministry of Infrastructure and four Thunder Bay organizations have agreed to keep the Wilderness Discovery Resort for the Disabled open for at least 20 years, the Free Press of Mankato reported.
Madison Lake resident Kirk Williams, a disabled veteran, and his care providers, Kevin and Lorie Johnson, started their campaign after they were told their request for 2015 reservations at the facility probably couldn’t be honored. The nonprofit in charge of operating the facility had allowed its lease with the Ontario government to expire, and the provincial government began considering selling the property to a private entity.
The campaign included an online petition, the hashtag “Save Wilderness Discovery” and messages at concerts and sporting events. At each of the event the organizers attended, they asked entertainers and athletes to pose for a photograph with a “Save Wilderness Discovery” sign.
“All kinds of people responded,” Kevin Johnson said. Williams once worked as an advocate for people with disabilities. Health issues have made his voice faint, and he relies on others to help maneuver his wheelchair.
“Saving the camp put some juice back in him,” Johnson said of Williams’ enthusiasm for the campaign. Williams considers the resort to be exceptionally beautiful.
The four civic organizations involved in the agreement took notice when the group garnered thousands of Facebook followers by posting photos of athletes and musicians holding the signs.
“What’s important is that anyone with a disability who wants to enjoy the outdoors will have a place to go,” Johnson said. (Source: Free Press of Mankato)