A look back at 2014: Changes in community leadership were seen

January

Remembering With Dignity, the initiative to properly mark graves at Minnesota institutions, enjoyed nationwide recognition. It is a program of the statewide self-advocacy group Advocating Change Together (ACT) and was featured on two PBS shows, News Hour and Religion and Ethics Newsweekly. The reports featured work at the Faribault State Hospital cemetery.

U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank scolded Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) officials after it was learned that the Minnesota Specialty Health Systems facility in Cambridge had operated without a proper state license for 10 months and then tried to hide that status. The facility, which was at the center of a major federal lawsuit for mistreatment of residents, closed later in 2014.

Sen. Torrey Westrom (R – Elbow Lake) launched his campaign for Congress. Westrom, who is blind, is one of Minnesota’s most high-profile legislators with a disability. Westrom lost in the general election to incumbent DFLer Collin
Peterson.

 

February

Minnesota’s deaf community mourned the death of Douglas Bahl. Bahl was a strong proponent of teaching American Sign Language. He was considered Minnesota’s deaf community historian. He was also involved as an activist at the local, state and federal levels, and made headlines as result of a 2006 traffic stop. The case resulted in many police and jail procedural changes for people who are deaf or hearing impaired

Debate continued over how to implement the Community First Services and Supports Program (CFSS), which was supposed to take effect April 1 or when it obtained federal approval. The change from the Personal Care Attendant (PCA) program would affect 25,000 Minnesotans. State-specific waiver issues were seen as causing delays. The switch from PCA to CFSS is still months away.

As the start of the Minnesota 2014 legislative session neared, disability community members were scoping out parking lot changes caused by capitol complex construction.

 

March

Minnesota’s disability advocacy community said farewell as John Tschida became the new director of the John TschidaNational  Institute on Disability Rehabilitation and Research in Washington, D.C. While Tschida’s new appointment is a huge plus nationally, colleagues agreed his depth of knowledge, advocacy skills and political savvy would be missed here. He had worked at what is now Courage Kenny Institute for many years. In the U.S. Department of Education, Tschida would help to lead much of the nation’s work to understand and reduce barriers in education, employment and community participation for people with disabilities. Tschida succeeded fellow Minnesotan Charlie Lakin as director.

The 2014 legislative session began with a flurry of bills and many rallies. Momentum seemed to be in the disability community’s favor, but it meant moving quickly as a myriad of bills and amendments move through the process. All eyes were on the state’s $1.2 billion surplus.

 

April

Polar PlungeThe 5% Campaign’s high-profile effort to raise wages for caregivers dominated legislative attention and was the focal point of the annual Disability Day at the Capitol. The caregiver wage increase made it into both House and Senate budgets and got Gov. Mark Dayton’s signature. The caregiver wage increase will cost $84 million a year to implement and will affect about 91,000 workers statewide. It was seen as helping the 92,500 people with disabilities and elderly Minnesotans who want to remain in their home communities. The increase for care workers was seen as consistent with a 2013 five percent increase for nursing home workers.

A brutally cold winter didn’t deter the Polar Plungers, the Minnesotans who jump into frigid waters to raise money for Special Olympics Minnesota. Statewide 17,748 plungers raised more than $3.7 million. The number of plungers was about the same but pledge amounts had increased.

 

May

Work on Minnesota’s Olmstead Plan continued, with a round of listening sessions and plan revisions underway through the spring and summer. The plan’s subcabinet sent its latest plan revisions to the federal court for review, to make sure the state was on track toward the goal of achieving integrated and inclusive communities in Minnesota.

The television program Disability Viewpoints was eyeing major changes at its longtime home with the North Suburban Communications Commission. Proposed changes to a franchise agreement with Comcast would mean major funding cuts for community interest, youth activity and sports programs including the show. Program leadership studied options in case the show had to move. Changes had been delayed as the year ended.

Longtime Access Press writer and disability community activist Clarence Schadegg was remembered after his death as someone who made a difference through his coverage of issues as well as his many years of volunteer work.

 

June

The 2014 legislative session had produced many more gains than losses for the disability community. The 5% Campaign celebrated its accomplishments as did those who had work for capital projects, programs for people with autism, mental health programs,
and various health, education and job training programs. Groundwork was laid for 2015 efforts to change the Medical Assistance spend down rate and make other needed changes.

The biggest winner in bonding programs may have been the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter, which was awarded more than $65 million for various facility improvements.

Self-advocates visited the historic Fergus Falls state hospital buildings, which were in danger of demolition. Saving the buildings was a priority for preservationists but the structures’ age and condition was a challenge. As the year ended the buildings’ fate was still in question.

The new Green Line light rail route was “greened up” and cleaned up by workers from Ally People Solutions.

 

July

Changes were made at Metro Mobility, effective July 1. The changes affected the “no show” practices and the maximum ride times. Adding an automated phone system, reducing the number of paratransit providers and restricting service were also in the works and would be rolled out in the months ahead. Metro Mobility provides more than 1.7 rides each year in the Twin Cities region.

Completion of a stairway/elevator tower would provide needed access from St. Paul’s skyway system to buses and Green Line light rail. Getting the tower in place had taken years of lobbying by self-advocates, downtown residents and St. Paul city officials. Rick Cardenas, co-director of ACT, spoke at the dedication on behalf of transit riders and downtown residents with disabilities.

PrairieCare announced plans for a new child and adolescent psychiatric hospital to be located in Brooklyn Park. The planned hospital will be the largest of its kind in Minnesota.

 

August

SEIUNew regulations for Medicaid, Home and Community-Based Services could alter the livers of many people with disabilities. That’s why people were urged to weigh in on proposed federal community settings regulations and their impacts. The Minnesota Disability Law Center provided information about the potential impacts.

Work on Minnesota’s Olmstead Plan continued as the new office director, Darlene Zangara, introduced herself to community members. Zangara was a featured speaker at the 24th anniversary Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) celebration in St. Paul. She gave an overview of plan progress as to date and urged everyone to get involved. Celebration participants were also urged to start getting involved with plans for a big ADA 25th anniversary celebration in 2015.

Changes to accommodations at the Minnesota State Fair were announced. One big change was the new West End Market, which was the new main bus pickup and drop-off point, and its new accessible features.

 

September

Home care providers voted to form their own union, capping a process that had extended over several years. About 60 percent of workers voting approved forming a union with the Service Employees International Union. This would allow workers to bargain with the state for wages and benefits. It was the largest union election in Minnesota history, with 5,800 people voting.

Christine Marble and Wendy DeVore were honored as winners of the 2014 Access Press Charlie Smith Award. The women, who run Career Ventures in St. Paul, were honored for their tireless work in helping people with disabilities find meaningful employment and social activities. They work closely with deaf, blind and deafblind Minnesotans.

St. Paul city officials were eyeing proposed regulations for so-called alternative transportation service companies, including Uber and Lyft. The companies provide competition for traditional cab and para-transit services. One concern about the companies is accessibility for riders with disabilities.

 

October

Citing vagueness and a lack of measureable goals, U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank sent back Minnesota’s Olmstead Plan. That sent Olmstead office staff and a subcabinet of state officials back to the work table to make plan changes and resubmit. The plan was criticized for having “significant shortfalls” and not showing that people could be successfully moved into integrated settings. The judge’s concerns mirrored what a number of disability advocates had said about the plan.

Mike Bjerkesett stepped down from his longtime post as leader of the National Handicapped Housing Institute (NHHI). He founded the nonprofit in 1975, to improve housing options for people with disabilities. Bjerkesett and his staff created more than 2,000 specialized housing units over the years. The longtime community leader planned to take some time off and then do consulting.

The popular Rides to the Polls program wouldn’t be rolling for the November election, due to a lack of grant funding.

 

November

Efforts to unionize home health care workers could move ahead, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Davis decided. He denied an injunction sought by the National Right to Work Foundation. Davis’ 25-page opinion indicated that it would be unlikely for union foes to win in court. He also cited the benefits of worker unionization.

The Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities announced its work on equity for persons receiving Medical Assistance. The focus is to increase the income standard, raise the asset limits and reduce spend downs, to help 12,000 people with disabilities and older adults. Campaign leaders were gearing up for the 2015 legislative session, as the issue would be the consortium’s top priority.

The state capitol would be a more challenging place to navigate during the upcoming session, with much renovation work going on. Rallies would have to be moved outdoors or to places other than in the capitol rotunda.

 

December

344 Summit AvenueReliable Medical Supply, Inc. celebrated 25 years in business in 2014. The company had grown over that time, with additional locations including one near Mayor Clinic in Rochester. Company owner Jeffrey Hall and his staff not only had the anniversary to celebrate, the company was enjoying an award from Home Medical Equipment News.

A Summit Avenue mansion being converted into a luxury boutique hotel needs changes to be accessible.  But how to do that prompted debate between the owner and the St. Paul Heritage Preservation Commission. Some commissioners wanted side or rear doors used, but the owner and other commissioners wanted modifications made to the building front door instead. The issue was tabled until early 2015.

AXIS Healthcare announced its move from St. Paul to the Park Avenue Medical Services building in Minneapolis. The new quarters are in a wing of  the Phillips Eye Institute on the Allina campus.