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Regional News in Review – March 2018

by // March 9th, 2018

Complaint backlog eliminated

Weeks of hard work by state regulators have virtually eliminated a giant backlog of unresolved complaints alleging abuse and neglect at Minnesota senior care facilities. State officials have also modernized the state’s complaint-intake system. It’s a turning point for a stepped-up effort to deal with thousands of reports of neglect, abuse and financial exploitation of residents in nursing homes and other elder facilities.

The state’s Office of Health Facility Complaints (OHFC), a division of the Minnesota Department of Health, is charged with investigating the allegations. But the backlog of complaints meant it sometimes took years to get investigations completed. Families were angered, and criminal investigators were frustrated by the delays. Gov. Mark Dayton responded in late 2017 by giving DHS sweeping powers over the OHFC. The rare interagency agreement has meant help from DHS to review the dormant cases.

Now, every single case has been reviewed. About 430 cases have been assigned for investigation. The office has also implemented an electronic system to process the approximately 400 cases it receives each week.

“This is what we needed to do to ensure the safety of our parents, our grandparents, and our loved ones across Minnesota,” said acting Human Services Commissioner Chuck Johnson. “This puts the OHFC in a much better position going forward.”

Officials with the Dayton administration said they are preparing a package of legislative proposals aimed at improving oversight of Minnesota’s 1,800 senior care facilities. (Source: Star Tribune)


Education violations alleged

The Minnesota Department of Education is looking into a complaint filed by a former employee of the Worthington Public Schools. Confirmation of the complaint came after former District 518 Area Learning Center Special Education Instructor Karen Abbott resigned in January.

State education officials will investigate regarding allegations Abbott made about special education violations. The activists’ group Worthington Citizens for Progress Committee posted about the resignation and allegations on its Facebook page, which made the matter public.

Abbott joined the school district at the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year. Her resignation was effective in January. She has cited claims ranging from alleged personal mistreatment to a variety of alleged special education violations. Abbott also said she reported violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to her supervisors. She also raised questions about attendance and grading policies. She resigned after refusing to sign a formal reprimand and stated that she was working in a hostile environment.

School district officials filed a response to the allegations, which then starts a state investigation process that includes interviews with those involved. The state has 60 days in which to complete its finding.

The pending investigation is not the first time District 518’s special education protocol has been investigated by the state, according to the Worthington Globe newspaper. Violations were found in 2011, which affected five students. Part of that complaint was that some special education students were removed from school without due process and without the benefit of any educational services. (Source: Worthington Globe)


Changes proposed to employment program

A state-funded program that provides long-term job supports to people with disabilities will soon operate under a new set of rules if proposed changes are adopted. The Extended Employment (EE) program is housed within the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. It provides supports to help Minnesotans with significant disabilities keep their jobs and advance in their careers.

The proposed rule change reflects principles such as Minnesota’s commitment to person-centered practices, informed choice and Minnesota’s Employment First policy – especially its focus on competitive, integrated employment. Revisions would align the program with new practices in the broader disability services system, including the federal Home and Community Based Services rule, the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, and stepped up enforcement of the Olmstead decision.

One major policy change would prioritize funding for services for individuals in competitive, integrated employment, cap funding for non-competitive employment, and phase out funding for center-based or workshop employment. Additionally, the proposed rule changes clarify that, for a job to be truly competitive and integrated, the employer cannot be an individual’s service provider.

The rule revision process began more than three years ago, including 18 months’ work by an advisory committee and public forms. The rule revision will be published in late March or early April, followed by a 30-day public comment period to gather additional input from individuals, community rehabilitation providers, advocacy organizations for individuals with disabilities, and others.

After the public comment period, DEED expects to adopt the revised rule so that it would take effect in the next state fiscal year beginning July 1, 2019. (Source: DEED)


Sheriffs demand legal action

Minnesota sheriffs are demanding legal action against the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS), saying it has violated the law and jeopardized the health of dozens of mentally ill jail inmates by failing to admit them to state-operated treatment facilities. The Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association said it has documented at least 60 cases since 2015 in which DHS failed to comply with a state law that requires inmates to be transferred to a state psychiatric facility within 48 hours after being committed as mentally ill by a state judge.

“It is time for law enforcement … to take action to enforce the laws of the State of Minnesota that are regretfully being ignored to the peril of public safety, safety of sheriff staff and harmful to those in jail with severe mental illness,” the sheriffs said in a letter to state and local prosecutors.

The letter is likely to escalate a long-simmering feud between county sheriffs and DHS over how to accommodate a growing number of jail inmates with serious mental illnesses. As many as one-fourth of the inmates in county jails across Minnesota suffer from a diagnosed mental illness — hundreds of people on any given day — yet county jails are generally ill-equipped to offer care, provide medications or keep them safe.

The situation was exacerbated by a 2013 law that requires the state to find a psychiatric bed within 48 hours for any jail inmate who is determined by a judge to be mentally ill. The statute, known as the 48-hour law, was meant to reduce a growing number of inmates languishing in jail cells without mental health treatment.

Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek said DHS officials should be held in contempt of court for failing to admit an inmate held for 14 days after he was committed as mentally ill to a state psychiatric facility. Acting Human Services Commissioner Chuck Johnson called the sheriffs’ letter “unproductive,” saying in a statement that it “actively damages our ability to work together to address what we all know is needed — a mental health system that works better between the courts, law enforcement, hospitals and our safety net for the people of Minnesota.” Johnson also placed some of the blame on the counties, noting that over the past two years sheriffs have failed to transport 82 people within 48 hours of a court order. (Source: Star Tribune)


Fundraiser to help student

An online fundraising effort raised more than $25,000 in pledges for the family of student whose social media posts prompted a school lockdown in Orono in February. The student has autism.

A GoFundMe page set up for the student stated that he is being held at the Hennepin County Juvenile Detention Center. He was arrested after police investigated an anonymous online posting that threatened a school shooting at Orono High School. It was the second threat in less than a day and prompted a lockdown for more than 900 students, just a week after 17 people were shot and killed at a Florida high school.

The fundraising page stated that the student did not mean the threat, didn’t have the means to carry it out and that he is despondent over the incident.

“The social media post was made in frustration with a group discussion regarding school safety, without the benefit of impulse control. There was no intention, nor the means, to carry out the threat,” the page stated.

The money raised — the goal originally was $25,000 but has now been raised to $30,000 — will help fund he student and his family’s legal and medical needs and time away from work. (Source: Minnesota Public Radio)


Plans to raise rents dropped

An assisted-living complex in Coon Rapids reversed plans to impose double-digit rent increases that could have uprooted dozens of longtime neighbors and splintered the community. Also, the operator of Autumn Glen Senior Living apologized for not communicating directly with residents about rent hikes of 15 to 30 percent that took effect in January. The operator said it would instead limit the rent increase to 4 percent and promised to provide a clear explanation for any future rent increases of 5 percent or more.

“We hope these adjustments will make your apartment feel like home again as we work together in supporting your future needs here,” wrote Dan Dixon, president and chief executive of Guardian Angels Senior Services of Elk River, a nonprofit organization that manages the facility for a group of private investors.

The decision marks a dramatic change in fortunes for the roughly 100 seniors who live at Autumn Glen, a complex that includes apartments, assisted living and memory care. Residents had challenged the increases.

Elder-care advocates say the case highlights the general lack of consumer protections for the roughly 60,000 Minnesotans who live in senior facilities across the state. Minnesota is one of just a handful of states that does not license these facilities, which means that elderly residents have few protections against sudden rent hikes and evictions. Despite the vulnerability of their residents, assisted-living facilities fall under the same landlord-tenant rules that govern ordinary rental properties and apartment buildings. (Source: Star Tribune)


New program focuses on treating childhood trauma

A new mental health program that will help children with high needs to stay with their foster families and out of treatment facilities is now available.

Intensive Mental Health Treatment in Foster Care is designed to meet the unique needs of each child. With services such as psychotherapy, crisis assistance and clinical care consultation, this model also provides services to all members of children’s families and their foster families, working closely with other providers and professionals who interact with the children.

“It’s critical that children get help early in life, where they are at and when they need it, and that’s what this program offers,” Acting DHS Commissioner Chuck Johnson said. “With appropriate care and support from the adults around them, children and adolescents living with mental illness can and do improve. This new service will help fill a gap for many children.”

Lutheran Social Service, St. Paul and Roseville; Lee Carlson Center, Fridley and Family Innovations, Maplewood are offering the service. Family Innovations plans to expand in the Twin Cities metro area and Alexandria.

Treating childhood trauma is an important focus of the program. Childhood trauma may be the result of experiences such as child physical or sexual abuse or domestic violence. The most common primary reason for children to enter foster care is parental drug abuse, including abuse of opioids, which can add to the trauma.

Addressing children’s traumas is critical to the healing process, said Ed Frickson, president of Family Innovations. “Untreated trauma leads to a host of problems throughout life,” Frickson said. “By treating trauma, we hope to help them lead more productive lives, and not pass the effects of their own trauma experiences onto their kids.”

The program will offer services in a variety of settings. Age, diagnosis and level of care restrictions will apply. (Source: Minnesota DHS)


Card available to facilitate communications

The Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) has released a new tool to help improve communications between people who are deaf and law enforcement. The new two-way communication card provides guidance to officers and can help facilitate the interaction.

“Minnesotans who are deaf and hard of hearing suggested this card, which we are confident can help to reduce significant communications barriers and increase overall safety for both people with hearing loss and law enforcement,” said DHS Assistant Commissioner Claire Wilson.

The laminated document, which can be kept in the vehicle, identifies the person as being deaf or hard of hearing and offers a few key communication tips. It indicates the best way an officer can communicate with the person with hearing loss, whether through written communication, lip reading or texting. It also includes a set of graphics the driver or law enforcement can use to communicate.

“This is a valuable tool for both the deaf and hard of hearing community as well as law enforcement,” said Col. Matt Langer, chief of the Minnesota State Patrol. “Any tool that helps with safety and communications is valuable.”

The card was designed with significant input from Minnesotans who are deaf and hard of hearing, who identified symbols that would be most helpful to them in communicating. People who want the traffic card should send an email to with their name, mailing address and county of residence (or email if they want an electronic copy), or call 651-431-5940 voice or 651-964-1514 video phone. An online version is available here (Source: Minnesota DHS)



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