Advocates work for access improvements The St. Cloud area Advocates for Independence and the McDonalds McStop restaurant located on Clearwater […]

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Advocates work for access improvements

The St. Cloud area Advocates for Independence and the McDonalds McStop restaurant located on Clearwater Road in St. Cloud recently worked together to discuss changes to improve the dining experience for people with disabilities. McDonalds management then implemented the changes.

Advocates for Independence committee is a group that speaks out on disability issues and looks into how challenges can be met. The group is active in Central Minnesota and is facilitated by Independent Lifestyles Inc., a center for independent living in Sauk Rapids and Little Falls.

The advocates became involved in the McDonalds issues after looking into accessibility issues. They met with general manager Greg Kwolik and got a positive response. They toured the restaurant to discuss concerns. They worked together to correct or add electronic door openers, wheelchair-accessible tables, signage and signed parking spaces for people with disabilities.

Kwolik said restaurant management was concerned when learning about the challenges people with disabilities face on a daily basis. “We addressed all the concerns that were brought to our attention as quickly as possible. We were happy to be able to work with this group and make our restaurant easily accessible and comfortable for all of our patrons.” Source: ICICIL


Worker’s firing was discriminatory

A St. Paul design, printing and packaging plant’s treatment of a worker with disabilities has been ruled discriminatory. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit May 2 against Impressions Inc., under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The lawsuit centers on the treatment of 10-year press helper Justin Cadmus, who had a good work record. Cadmus was diagnosed with depression in 2014. After his supervisor learned that Cadmus had stopped taking anti-depressants, Cadmus was ordered to see a doctor and a psychologist and go back on medication. Ordering an employee to go for medical examinations can be considered to be a form of dissemination based on disability.

Cadmus compiled with the directives, even though they were illegal. He was later fired because of the depression. The lawsuit seeks back pay and damages, and wants Impressions to change its practices in the area of employment law.

Impressions is denying the allegations. Source: EEOC


Mental health agency scrutinized

Federal prosecutors have seized $2 million from a former Twin Cities mental-health agency accused of submitting fraudulent bills for home services involving hundreds of Minnesota children and adults.

The U.S. attorney’s office said it seized the funds after an investigation found that Richfield-based Complementary Support Services (CSS) had fraudulently billed Medicaid. The money represents a portion of the more than $12 million that CSS allegedly obtained through its fraudulent billing practices, the U.S. attorney’s office said in a civil forfeiture action.

The civil action is a signal that prosecutors could be moving closer to filing criminal charges against those involved in the now-defunct agency.

CSS is accused of having “batch signed” client progress records without providing proper oversight and without reviewing the care provided to clients, as well as fraudulently billing for “documentation time” and then falsely labeling such time as therapy, according to court documents. Prosecutors allege the fraud began as early as 2007.

Priscilla Lord, a Minneapolis attorney representing CSS, said the agency denies the allegations and has reached a tentative settlement with the state and federal prosecutors rather than go to a trial.

According to the civil forfeiture action, CSS in November 2013 initiated a wire transfer of $2 million from a bank account to a separate checking account held by a Wisconsin day care center. The transfer was made less than a month after CSS was served with an official document request, known as a civil investigative demand. All or nearly all of the funds transferred were proceeds from violations of federal law, the U.S. attorney’s office alleges. Source: Star Tribune


Families can hold facilities accountable

Minnesotans looking to hold senior homes accountable for abuse and neglect won a legal victory after a district judge threw out a forced arbitration clause that would have prohibited a family from suing in court. Anoka County Judge Sean Gibbs upheld the right of a family to sue an assisted-living facility over the death of an 89-year-old man, Gerald Seeger, who died of complications related to a common hernia. The facility, Lighthouse of Columbia Heights, had argued in court that, despite the man’s death, the family had forfeited the right to a jury trial by signing an arbitration agreement at the time of his admission.

The decision is among the first of its kind in Minnesota. “This is not just a victory for me, but it’s a victory for everyone who has ever felt silenced by these agreements,” said Joan Maurer, Seeger’s daughter, who filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Lighthouse after state health investigators found the facility failed to provide timely medical care. “This shows that they can’t just shove me into a room with an arbitrator, where one person decides the value of my father’s life in secret.”

In his ruling, the judge stopped short of making a broad pronouncement against arbitration provisions in senior home contracts, saying the terms of the contract were reasonable, while rejecting it for procedural reasons.

“The judge’s determination … generally supports Lighthouse of Columbia Heights’ view that arbitration benefits both parties in dispute resolution by avoiding costly and lengthy court cases,” said Doug Anderson, a spokesman for New Perspective Senior Living, the Eden Prairie-based parent of Lighthouse. Source: Star Tribune


Court decides group homes may be liable for injuries

Michael Sorenson sustained burns over 35 percent of his body four years ago, after another resident poured a pot of boiling water over him. He was living in a Bloomington group home operated by Options Residential Inc.

In April the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that the group home operator cannot claim legal immunity under a 1967 state law, and shield itself from more than $1 million in potential civil damages. An appeal panel decided that Sorenson can sue Burnsville-based Options Residential Inc. of Burnsville, for damages from injuries he suffered when a roommate with a history of aggression burned him so badly that he was hospitalized for two months. He then had to move into a nursing home.

The 1967 statute, known as the Minnesota Commitment and Treatment Act (CTA), established procedural safeguards and rights for people being committed by the courts as mentally ill. But part of the law also gave facilities protections against civil or criminal liability when they made a “good faith” effort to provide care to committed individuals.

About 14,000 Minnesotans live in four-bed group homes across the state. In many of these homes, people with physical and developmental disabilities live in close quarters with people with severe mental illnesses.

“This means the least among us will have the right to a legal remedy if they are harmed in a group home,” said Donald McNeil, a Bloomington attorney who represents Sorenson. “And no provider should be allowed to hide behind an immunity defense to avoid accountability.”

One likely consequence of the ruling is that group homes and other residential providers will be more reluctant to admit individuals with serious and persistent mental illnesses, knowing they can be held liable for misconduct, said Roberta Opheim, state ombudsman for mental health and developmental disabilities. This could make it tougher for people to find housing at a time when many of the state’s 3,500 group homes are struggling with staffing shortages and a lack of capacity.

The Minnesota Department of Human Services investigated the incident and found the facility was responsible for neglect. Source: Star Tribune

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