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Access Press - Minnesota's Disability Community Newspaper

Regional News in Review – February 2018

by // February 10th, 2018

Malcolm to lead health department

Former Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner and veteran health care executive Jan Malcolm is returning to lead the state agency. Gov. Mark Dayton announced the appointment January 31. Malcom will lead at a time when the state faces questions over senior housing and care center problems.

Malcolm led the department under Gov. Jesse Ventura from 1999 to 2003. She succeeds Dr. Ed Ehlinger, who resigned in December 2017.

“Jan Malcolm brings exceptional experience in public and nonprofit health management to the Minnesota Department of Health,” said Dayton. The appointment comes less than three months after a five-part Star Tribune series described breakdowns in the agency’s handling of elder abuse allegations. The articles described how hundreds of senior care center residents in Minnesota have been beaten robbed, sexually assaulted or injured each year. The vast majority of these incidents are never resolved, and the perpetrators go unpunished, in part because the Health Department lacks the staff and forensic expertise to investigate them.

Malcolm has announced that she will work hard to correct the situation, and look closely at Office of Health Facility Complaints that is to look at maltreatment claims. Malcolm also apologized for the pain and trauma the incidents have caused.

A work group convened by Dayton to look at the issue recently released its findings, and recommended a wide range of reforms. At a legislative hearing last month, state officials said they are still sorting through more than 2,300 maltreatment cases that have never been reviewed by state regulators.

Those will be considered by the 2018 Minnesota Legislature. (Source: Star Tribune)

 

Mankato residents are speaking out

Mankato area residents with disabilities and city officials have launched an 18-month examination of where the Mankato-area is failing to abide by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The effort began with a communitywide open house, where everyone was encouraged to list places that make it unsafe or impossible for people with disabilities to travel.

An ADA Transition Plan and Inventory is allowing those involved to examine about 165 miles of sidewalk, 65 miles of trails and 5,500 pedestrian ramps within Blue Earth and Nicollet counties. The Mankato-North Mankato Area Planning Organization, working with consultant Bolton and Menk, hopes to identify every spot that fails to meet the standards set by the ADA. The study is targeted at public right-of-way and approaches to public buildings, not private-sector properties.

Identifying problems is the first step. Once a list done, a schedule will be drafted to address each of the problems in the future — often when a road or street is scheduled for reconstruction or resurfacing. The study process, which is expected to be completed in March 2019, will include another open house next winter for the public to comment on the more detailed final draft of the plan.

Barriers being examined include sidewalks and trails that are too narrow, too steep, overgrown with vegetation or otherwise difficult to navigate; curb-cuts and pedestrian ramps that don’t meet standards; bus stops that are unreachable by people using wheelchairs and more. The study also looks at barriers to access to public buildings.

The ADA Transition Plan and Inventory is mandated by the federal government, which has threatened to withhold federal highway funds to local governments that have failed to substantially complete the study by 2019. The $176,000 study is being coordinated by MAPO, a federally funded organization that came into existence when Mankato-North Mankato became an official metropolitan area following the 2010 census. (Source: Free Press of Mankato)

 

Airport unveils new technology

Travelers passing through Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport can take advantage of a service designed to help people with visual impairments. A San Diego-based startup called Aria launched its services at MSP. The technology works through a pair of smart glasses. A small camera is attached to the side of the glasses. Through an app, users are connected by phone to live visual interpreters who see everything they cannot. Users can learn when flights are canceled, find restrooms, locate the food court and more.

Aira users pay a monthly subscription fee starting at $89. The fee includes the glasses. The service then costs $2 per minute, but the Metropolitan Airports Commission is covering the cost of minutes used at MSP. “It’s really about making the experience as accessible and as customer friendly for all travelers and especially those travelers with special needs,” said Metropolitan Airports Commission CEO Brian Ryks.

The Metropolitan Airports Commission has budgeted $5,000 annually to cover Aira costs for users. Ryks says they can adjust that number if more people are interested in using the technology. (Source: KMSP-TV)

 

Wounded Warriors take the field

One highlight of the recent Super Bowl in the Twin Cities was a game between Wounded Warrior amputees and NFL alumni, played at Concordia University’s Sea Foam Stadium in St. Paul.

The explanations of the donations to the Wounded Warrior Amputee Football Team weren’t completely heard by the hundreds in attendance, but the over-sized cardboard checks clearly showed the numbers: insurance company Humana gave $400,000, and pet-food business Blue Buffalo contributed $150,000. Once the game started, smiles from former NFL/Gophers players Mark Setterstrom and Dom Barber were as transparent as those of Minnesota military veterans Adam Warden of Maple Plain and Jack Zimmerman of Cleveland.

Zimmerman took a pitch from Wounded Warriors volunteer all-time quarterback Ryan Leaf and navigated his motorized wheelchair down the sideline for a touchdown. With a prosthetic left leg, Warden dove to catch a tipped pass for a touchdown.

The charity games are tied to a city’s Super Bowl festivities and started in 2013 in New Orleans. Former Viking Robert Smith participated in the 2016 game in Santa Clara, Calif. “I get embarrassed sometimes because you hear yourself referred to as a hero,” said Smith as he posed for photos and signed dozen of autographs after the game. “And there are people serving our country and being wounded and losing their lives for our country out there.”

“I think it’s important for all of us,” Smith said, “no matter who you are, to have perspective in our lives and understand that there are a lot of people that pray for the things that we take for granted day to day. It’s important to be grateful for the people that have served us and to not get caught up in the little things in your life whenever possible.” (Source: Pioneer Press)

 

Supportive housing project eyed

Zumbro House has made a preliminary proposal for a supported-living apartment building on the north end of Newport, a suburban community southeast of St. Paul. The company wishes to build a 200-unit three-story, market rate apartment building near the Highway 61-I-4949 interchange. A second phase would include a 7,000-square-foot retail center

Zumbro House properties across the Twin Cities metro area have served individuals with mental illness and cognitive disabilities an since 2001. The apartments considered for Newport are for individuals who can manage an apartment on their own, but need assistance with some tasks. It would be the company’s first foray into building new housing. It has done housing conversions in the past. The project has an estimated cost of more than $20 million.

“We want it to be an integrated setting,” Zumbro House owner Christopher Onken said. “We’re not trying to create an institution here in Newport, we’re trying to create an apartment complex where we can provide some supports to people who need it.” The complex would have about 20 people on staff 24 hours a day.

Onken said the company currently serves about 130 residents. “The market is well beyond what we can serve.” Residents applying for Zumbro House generally have lower medical needs and behavioral needs. “There’s a pretty thorough screening process for every soul that we serve … If there’s any behaviors that we believe are beyond what we think we can manage, we’re going to decline that individual,” Onken said.

Preliminary plans were presented in January to the Newport City Council. (Source: Washington County Bulletin)

 

New website is autism resource

The Minnesota Autism Resource website is now available for youth and adults with autism as well as parents, teachers, social service and health care professionals and others to get and share information about autism spectrum disorders and related conditions (ASD).

A key strategy for the Minnesota Autism Resource website is crowd-sourcing content, where individuals and organizations submit content for posting on the website. This is a way to keep the website continually evolving based on community needs and input.

“This new website is just one part of our commitment to improve autism services in Minnesota,” said Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper. “We want Minnesotans interested in autism to have the opportunity to connect with one another, share and learn about autism, and access our state’s services and supports for people with autism. Community participation will drive the website’s success.”

The website also includes an events calendar, organization list, job board, multi-media gallery and links to resources. To submit content, suggest ideas for the website or ask questions, organizations and individuals need to fill out a form in the Contact Us section on the site. Content guidelines have been established.

The website was funded by the Minnesota Legislature at the recommendation of the state’s Autism Spectrum Disorder Task Force, was developed in a collaborative effort between several state departments. (Source: Minnesota DHS)

 

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