Approval of Minnesota’s Olmstead Plan September 29 caps almost four years’ efforts. The plan provides clarity as to how people with disabilities will be more fully integrated into the greater community and how supports and services will be provided. However, questions remain about everything from how the plan will be implemented to whether it means the loss of some programs and facilities.
While hailing U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank’s decision to approve the plan, state leaders agree there is much work left to do toward plan implementation. One next step is progress reports toward the plan’s measurable goals. The Olmstead Subcabinet was to submit work plans for each of 13 topic areas by October 10. After reports are submitted the court will review and approve implementation of the plan, based on recommendations from US Magistrate Judge Becky R. Thorson.
Another step is creation of an annual “quality of life” survey of people with disabilities, with the first survey to be conducted in 2016. The survey will determine how well people are integrated into and engaged with their home community, and how much autonomy they have in day to day decision making, and to gauge if they are living and working in the most integrated setting they choose.
The plan has had many revisions as well as court filings over the past few years and much back-andforth with Frank. In his ruling, Frank wrote, “The court applauds the parties for their collaboration in developing this landmark Olmstead Plan. Simply put, this revision of the Olmstead Plan is unlike any other version submitted to the court. The court fully expects the state to act on its promises to ensure that the Olmstead Plan will truly put the promise of Olmstead into practice across the state.” The judge made it clear that the plan will continue to change over time, calling it an “evolving document.”
Gov. Mark Dayton thanked Frank, adding, “We will continue to work hard to improve life opportunities for Minnesotans with disabilities.”
“Judge Frank’s decision is a step toward helping Minnesotans with disabilities enjoy the full range of options available. Minnesota’s Olmstead Plan will help ensure all people have a voice in the decisions that ultimately determine their quality of life,” said Lt. Governor Tina Smith. “We still have more work to do and that’s what the implementation of this plan is focused on doing.”
Frank’s ruling indicated that long delays won’t be tolerated on issues that have dragged on for months if not years. “The court expects the state to not only follow through on these commitments, but to make them a top priority,” he wrote.
The plan covers 13 topic areas including how employment, housing, education, transportation, health care and transition services will be provided. Much of the language is broad. But Frank praised the plan for honing in specifics such as timelines to achieve key goals, more data and more commitments to get things done.
Minnesota’s Olmstead Plan is focused on providing individuals with disabilities more opportunities to experience lives of inclusion and integration in their communities – just like people without disabilities,” said Minnesota Housing Commissioner Mary Tingerthal, Olmstead Subcabinet Chair.
“This is a victory for Minnesotans with disabilities,” said Darlene Zangara, Olmstead Implementation Office’s executive director. “We look forward to moving ahead with its implementation and ensuring that all Minnesotans are able to live, learn, work and enjoy life in inclusive communities.”
The plan addresses barriers to full integration faced by people with disabilities, lays out specific action and goals, and sets various time frames. One theme of the plan is that Minnesotans with disabilities want the chance to make informed choices about their lives. It calls for expanding integrated housing, employment, and education options that will result in greater inclusion of people with disabilities.
The plan indicates that some people may choose options that aren’t integrated, and those choices should be respected. Frank noted in his ruling that there are fears that Olmstead could mean loss of some programs and facilities.
“Many individuals with disabilities in this state value living and working alongside other individuals with disabilities in settings such as group homes and sheltered workshops. The court emphasizes that the Olmstead decision is not about forcing integration upon individuals who choose otherwise or who would not be appropriately served in community settings,” Frank wrote.
Plan approval has drawn mixed reactions. Several disability advocacy groups indicated they’ll be following the plan and efforts to make sure it gets adequate state funding.
State Ombudsman for Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities, Roberta Opheim told Minnesota Public Radio that plan goals remain too modest. Her example is that the plan’s goal to reduce the percentage of Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center patients who are ready to be integrated from 35 to 30 percent by 2019, isn’t enough.
Attorney Shamus O’Meara has also raised concerns about the plan, noting it doesn’t completely prohibit use of restraint and seclusion. “There is a lot to be done, the plan is a document,” O’Meara told MPR. “The real measure of success of this type of plan is how it’s implemented and is it going to be affecting people with disabilities in a positive way or is it doing something else.”
O’Meara’s lawsuit centering on maltreatment of people with disabilities at the former Minnesota Extended Treatment Options (METO) program in Cambridge jump-started Minnesota’s Olmstead Plan work. The state was ordered to complete its plan as part of a federal court settlement focused on METO, which was run by the Minnesota Department of Human Services. MEO has since been closed.
Dayton issued an executive order in January 2013 that formed the Olmstead Subcabinet, to develop and implement the plan. It includes representatives of eight state agencies. More than 40 states have adopted similar plans since a landmark 1999 Supreme Court decision, known as Olmstead vs. L.C., ordering states to eliminate the unnecessary segregation of people with disabilities. The case began in Georgia and is named for a former Georgia human services official, Tommy Olmstead.
To read about Minnesota’s Olmstead Plan, and the complete court ruling, go here.