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Access Press - Minnesota's Disability Community Newspaper

Regional New in Review – September 2018

by // September 8th, 2018

Massive complaint backlog resolved

State health regulators have eliminated a massive backlog of unresolved complaints alleging abuse and neglect at Minnesota senior care facilities. They are also committing to speed up investigations into new complaints. That’s a huge turnaround from taking months if not years to get complaints handled. Those delays infuriated family members of abuse victims and vexed criminal investigators.

2017 began with 3,147 reports of abuse and maltreatment awaiting scrutiny, including incidents in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. The Office of Health Facility Complaints, a division of the Minnesota Department of Health, has cleared the massive backlog and launched a new electronic system for processing the roughly 400 new allegations it receives weekly. That provides a faster resolution to such cases. It replaced an outdated paper processing system, where files stacked up or even went missing.

“This is a significant milestone,” Gilbert Acevedo, assistant state health commissioner, told the Star Tribune. The newspaper brought the problems to light last year. “We want family members to know that when they submit cases to us that we take them extremely seriously and we will respond to them in a timely fashion.”

Gov. Mark Dayton gave the much larger Department of Human Services sweeping new powers over the facilities complaints office under an interagency agreement. DHS sent a team of staff to help sort through thousands of unreviewed cases and to develop a new electronic document management system.

State officials said eliminating the giant backlog is significant because it frees up time for the office’s 55 staff to address new complaints more quickly. Timing is critical in elder abuse cases because the victims often suffer from dementia and may forget critical details. “This clears the deck so that we can focus on current cases,” Acevedo said. “We want to make sure we never get back into a situation where we have a backlog.”

At a press briefing Dayton praised the commissioners of the departments of Health and Human Services for their efforts at clearing out the backlog of maltreatment complaints. “That’s the way it should have been all along,” he said. “But the fact that they eliminated a backlog of over 3,000 [complaints] was really, really impressive and they deserve credit for that.” (Source: Star Tribune)

 

Settlement provides additional dollars

Minnesota will receive an estimated $85 million in additional funding for MinnesotaCare in 2018 as a result of a lawsuit filed against the federal government. MinnesotaCare, Minnesota’s basic health program, was expanded under the Affordable Care Act to provide insurance to people whose incomes are just above requirements for Medicaid eligibility.

“Last fall, without analysis or justification, the federal government cut funding for MinnesotaCare, eliminating cost-sharing related payments,” said Minnesota Department of Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper. “I am pleased today they acknowledge Minnesota is entitled to return of some of that funding. We are assessing whether this sufficiently addresses our concerns raised in the lawsuit.”

Minnesota and New York filed the lawsuit after the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) reduced payments to basic health plans. The reduction was related to President Trump’s decision to eliminate cost-sharing subsides for insurance purchased in the individual market.

After the lawsuit was filed, CMS consulted with Minnesota and New York on a new formula for basic health plans. The revised payment rate returns approximately 72 percent of the federal funding that was taken away in December 2017. It is not yet clear whether CMS will make similar adjustments for 2019. MinnesotaCare provides insurance for 89,000 low-income, working Minnesotans. (Source: DHS)

 

Attorney enters guilty plea

Minneapolis attorney Paul Hansmeier, whose aggressive litigation in the name of disability access angered advocates and business owners, has pleaded guilty in an unrelated case involving fraudulent copyright lawsuits.

Hansmeier was indicted in December 2016, charged with conspiring to extort $6 million from thousands of people through “porn trolling” lawsuits. A second attorney involved in the case pleaded guilty last year. The men would post pornography online, then file copyright infringement claims against persons who downloaded their posts. They threatened individuals with financial penalties and public embarrassment, unless settlements were paid. Hansmeier has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, as well as conspiracy to commit money laundering. Other counts against him will be dismissed.

In the past Hansmeier has tried to take advantage of businesses and people with disabilities under the banner of groups including the Disability Support Alliance (DSA). He would demand settlements unless businesses made access improvement. That led to an FBI investigation as well as state and federal law changes.

Now Hansmeier is accused of taking money from the DSA. District court records show that Hansmeier in early 2016 took more than $300,000 from the DSA. Court documents indicate that the DSA began noticing cash withdrawals from January through February 2016 from an ATM in Burnsville. In an examination of the DSA’s bank account, investigators learned Hansmeier had transferred approximately $304,718 from a fund established by the DSA for litigation proceeds and had also taken an additional $7,500 of client money. (Source: KMSP-TV)

 

State reaches agreements with more schools

The Minnesota Department of Human Rights announced in August that it has reached agreements or tentative agreements with 39 of 43 school districts and charter schools it met with last fall about reducing disparities in suspensions and expulsions for students of color and students with disabilities in non-safety related incidents.

State officials have signed settlement agreements with 34 of the charter schools and school districts. Tentative agreements are in place with five more districts.

Changes were sought about a year ago after a review of five years’ worth of public data. The data is from reports by schools and districts to the Minnesota Department of Education’s Discipline Incident Reporting System. While students of color make up 31 percent of the population in the state’s schools, they receive 66 percent of all suspensions and expulsions.

Students with disabilities make up 14 percent of the population, but receive 43 percent of suspensions and expulsions. Finalized agreements are now in place with Bemidji School District, Best Academy, Bloomington Public Schools, Brooklyn Center School District, Cass Lake School District, Cloquet School District, Columbia Heights Public Schools, Dugsi Academy, Duluth Public Schools, Eden Prairie Schools, Fridley School District, Hinckley Finlayson Public Schools, Hopkins Public Schools, ISD 15 St. Francis, Mankato Area Public Schools, Mastery Charter School, Minnesota Transitions Charter School, Mounds View Public Schools, North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale Public Schools, Onamia Public Schools, Prairie Seeds Academy, Prodeo Academy, Red Lake Public Schools, Richfield Public Schools, Robbinsdale Area Schools, Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan, St. Louis Park Public Schools, St. Paul City School, Saint Paul Public Schools, South St. Paul Public Schools, Wayzata Public Schools, Willmar Public Schools and Winona Public Schools.

Osseo Area School District has an agreement in process. Anoka-Hennepin School District, Edina Public Schools, Kipp Minnesota Charter School, the Minneapolis Public School District and Rochester Public Schools are expected to act on agreements soon. Negotiations are ongoing with Global Academy Charter, Moorhead Public Schools and St. Cloud Public Schools. (Source: Minnesota Department of Human Rights)

 

Lengthy legal case resolved

A lengthy class-action lawsuit over the constitutionality of Minnesota’s civil commitment program for sex offenders effectively ended in August when U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank dismissed the remaining claims. The judge stood by his earlier statements that some revelations during a six-week trial shocked his conscience.

The Minnesota Sex Offender Program has more than 720 sex offenders who have finished their prison sentences. They are confined in secure treatment facilities in Moose Lake and St. Peter. Lawyers who filed the class-action lawsuit in 2011 argued that commitment to the program was tantamount to a life sentence because almost no one is ever released. More provisional discharges have occurred recently, but the program has raised red flags. One issue is how people with disabilities are treated.

Frank cited a 2017 decision by the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which overturned his 2015 declaration that the program was unconstitutional because few people had ever been released from the program since began in the mid-1990s. The U.S. Supreme Court in October 2017 declined to hear the case, letting the circuit court ruling stand and the program to continue operating as it was.

“Some of the facts revealed during the lengthy Phase One trial in this matter are indeed shocking to this court’s conscience,” Frank wrote. He considers the continued confinement of the only woman in the program “truly conscience-shocking.” He called the continued confinement of elderly people with a low likelihood of reoffending “an egregious affront to liberty, particularly in light of the pervasive sense of hopelessness at the MSOP.” He also expressed “great concern” with the confinement of individuals with cognitive disabilities. and those who committed sex offenses only while they were juveniles. He said they could be safely kept in less restrictive facilities.

The dismissed claims, which had been put on hold for a second phase of the case, dealt mostly with alleged violations of religious freedom, free speech and free association, and protections against unreasonable searched and seizures. The effect of the rulings is that anyone in the program who wishes to pursue such claims must do so as an individual instead of a class action. Frank noted that several such cases are pending, and more may now follow. (Source: Star Tribune)

 

Assisted living facility found negligent

A Minneapolis assisted living facility was found to be negligent when a 76-year-old woman wandered outdoors in March. She was found more than eight hours later in a snow bank, and subsequently died of hypothermia complications. The Minnesota Department of Health issued the finding recently. The woman, who had multiple disabilities including dementia, has not been named.

The woman left the Golden Nest facility without adequate clothing for winter weather. She also didn’t have her cane or walker. She was able to leave after two employees forgot to lock and latch two different doors. It took staff nearly an hour to discover that she was missing. Staff drove around the neighborhood. It took almost another hour to let the home’s executive director know.

The director said 911 shouldn’t be called as staff was still out searching. The state report indicates it took almost three hours for 911 to be called. The woman’s family was then notified. They joined the search, and found the woman around 11 p.m., in a snowbank. That was more than eight hours after she left the facility.

The MDH report quoted a police report which stated, “The area where (the woman) was found was treacherous because there were large snow banks surrounding her. (The woman) was lying in between the train tracks and snow banks. There was little to no lighting in the area she was found. (She) would not have been visible from any roadways.”

The state report also indicated that the woman had arrived at the facility just six days earlier. She had no care plan and other medical and health paperwork was missing. The facility doesn’t have a memory care unit and typically doesn’t accept patients with a history of wandering. (Source: KSTP-TV)

 

 

 

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