January 2012 – Regional News in Review

Deaf activist wins settlement Five years after he was jailed in Ramsey County, deaf community activist Douglas Bahl believes he […]

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Deaf activist wins settlement

Five years after he was jailed in Ramsey County, deaf community activist Douglas Bahl believes he can
have a normal life again. The St. Paul man, who sued Ramsey County after a 2006 traffic stop, had his settlement approved by the Ramsey County Board Dec. 20. 

Bahl, of St. Paul, will receive $57,500 as a result of the federal lawsuit, which was based on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Minnesota Disability Law Center, which represented Bahl, will receive $172,000.

In addition the county will change procedures at its jail. The settlement requires the county to contract with or hire qualified sign-language interpreters and guarantee their availability within an hour of the county’s taking custody of someone needing accommodations. 

But the settlement adds that the jail’s “deaf and hard-of-hearing coordinator”—a new position— could determine “in writing that there is an equally effective means of communication or that the individual’s request poses an undue financial or administrative burden.” 

Bahl’s attorney, Roderick Macpherson III, said the settlement would bring the jail into the 21st century.

 Bahl, a deaf activist and longtime American Sign Language trainer at St. Paul College, accused the county of failing to provide a sign-language interpreter when he was jailed for three days. He was on his way to see his wife when he was stopped by police for running a red light. Because he was unable to communicate with her, she feared that something had happened to him. 

Bahl then sued the county and the city of St. Paul after the traffic stop. He was convicted of misdemeanor obstructing the legal process after he fought with police during the stop.

A federal judge dismissed Bahl’s claims against the city. That has been appealed and is expected to be heard in 2012. [Source: Pioneer Press, Star Tribune]


Blue Cross/Blue Shield makes autism changes


Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota will begin dropping coverage in most cases for a costly therapy for autistic children as early as Jan. 1—a change that has patient advocates worried about losing coverage through a key state program, too. The Eagan-based health insurer announced in December that the coverage change will be phased in over next year and affect about 200 children who have been receiving a treatment known as early intensive behavioral intervention. 

The treatment cost averages about $80,000 per year. Blue Cross is changing its coverage policy to match that of other health plans as well as the state Department of Human Services, said insurance company spokesperson Pam Lux.

Blue Cross has been one of the few health plans to provide coverage of the intensive therapy, which in some cases involves 40 hours per week of treatment. That worries families who rely on the treatment. But the insurer’s reference to the Department of Human Services also is concerning because the state has been a key source of coverage for families that don’t have Blue Cross coverage. 

“We’re concerned that this is a harbinger of something on the horizon—that the state is going to say: ‘This is not a covered service,’ “ said Amy Esler, a psychologist at the autism spectrum disorders clinic at the University of Minnesota. 

DHS officials said the state isn’t making any changes in its coverage of autism services.

At Blue Cross, the change first will affect about 10 families covered through its HMO for people in the state’s Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare programs. Those families will lose coverage starting Jan. 1. Other groups will lose coverage for the service as their policies renew in the spring and summer of 2012, said Lux.  [Source: Pioneer Press]


State finds fault with worker

A state worker who left a severely disabled man alone in a tub to answer a telephone call should not have been bathing him the night he drowned, according to a high-ranking state official and an investigative report issued recently. Devra C. Stiles has already been charged with manslaughter for her “culpable negligence” in the case, according to a criminal complaint filed last fall in Isanti County. 

Though Stiles told investigators that she left Gerald Hyska in the bathtub for a couple of minutes on the night of Aug. 28, 2011, the department concluded that she left the water running and failed to return for 37 minutes. Hyska was one of three severely disabled residents living at the state-operated group home in Braham. Hyska, who had lived with severe brain damage since birth, couldn’t speak or stay upright by himself. His safety care plan, which Stiles wrote, indicated he should never be left alone in a bathtub.

“It was impossible to do the two things she was doing at once, which is to exclusively attend to this one client and still attend to the other two” residents, said Anne Barry, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Human Services. “It was impossible to do what she knew was a requirement of that client’s program plan.” 

Prosecutors alleged it took Stiles about 30 minutes to call 911, after spending more than six minutes on the phone with her son. She was unable to save Hyska; the report also indicates she failed to do CPR properly.

In the state report, investigators noted that two employees were on duty at the home just two hours a day in recent years, vs. seven hours a day in the early 1990s. Stiles was the only employee working that Sunday night. Other staff members told investigators the staffing levels were adequate for their duties. One unidentified worker said he or she would not answer the phone or doorbell when bathing Hyska.

Investigators did not blame the facility for Hyska’s death, but they said the facility’s report on the incident was incomplete and confusing.  [Source: Star Tribune]


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