Olmstead hearing draws many ideas for new plan

Panelists at the Olmstead meeting took questions and outlined issues related to the plan.

Minnesotans have until this fall to weigh in key quality of life issues, as part of the state’s Olmstead Plan. Their comments will help shape a plan that is to be unveiled Nov. 1. Release of an 83-page draft plan and the opportunity to comment drew a large crowd June 19 to the DS Event Center in St. Paul. Representatives from eight state departments presented updates on plan activities. Several members of the public weighed in with suggestions and concerns on topics including housing, employment and self-advocacy.

All states are required to have an Olmstead Plan, as a result of a June 1999 U.S, Supreme Court decision. The State of Georgia was sued for unnecessarily institutionalizing people with intellectual disabilities. The court ruled that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires states to provide services to people with disabilities in the “most integrated settings” appropriate to their needs. That means people have the right to live in their communities with appropriate services and supports, and not be institutionalized.

Minnesota’s Olmstead Plan got a head start as a result of the December 2011 settlement of a lawsuit against Minnesota Extended Treatment Options. By executive order, Gov. Mark Dayton established the Olmstead Sub-Cabinet and asked the group to develop and implement a comprehensive plan supporting freedom of choice and opportunity for people with disabilities.

The sub-cabinet has been meeting to develop the draft plan. Each state department has prepared a summary of information on its Olmstead-related activities. The overviews typically include a description of current services, goals to be reached, activities addressing accessibility needs, and descriptions of barriers to achieving integration. Some overviews include proposals for community engagement. Others list the fiscal impacts of providing accommodations or other services, and how services will be monitored and evaluated.

To meet as many needs as possible, the sub-cabinet has been focusing on ways state agencies and departments can work with one another to improve services through the Olmstead plan. Each department representative talked about the process thus far and what’s ahead.

“People with disabilities want to see greater coordination among departments,” said Minnesota Department of Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsay. Another desire is for more state hiring of people with disabilities, which in turn could set an example for the private sector.

Greg Gray of the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) said that Olmstead “cannot be all things to all people.” He described the plan as a road map to services.

Gray said that to improve state services, DHS has been identifying programs and services where it has the most interaction with people with disabilities, then comes up with goals to meet those needs. It also has identified a number of barriers to achieving integrated settings. Some of the challenges for DHS include making systems less difficult and complex to navigate, and reversing the bias toward provider-controlled supports, employment, housing and transportation.

Questions raised June 19 ranged from housing access to calls for more focus on eliminating barriers to employment. One speaker cited the difficulty of trying to juggle personal care attendant schedules with work schedules for people with disabilities. Others called for the group to track ongoing federal Department of Justice decisions and how those could have an impact on the state plan.

Joan Willshire, director of the Minnesota State Council on Disability (MNSCOD) asked if there is any tracking of how many people may want to locate in more integrated settings. She also asked, “Are we looking at demographics?”

Cynthia Bauerly of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) said the full draft plan will include “as much data as we can gather and find.” Lindsay urged MNSCOD and other state councils to share as much data as they have.

Mary Kay Kennedy of Advocating Change Together (ACT) brought in a number of questions from ACT’s self-advocates. One question she asked centered on more leadership training as part of Olmstead planning. “The plan has the potential to radically change inclusion,” she said.

The June 19 event was the first of several public forums to be held throughout the state this summer.

The next is 9-11 a.m. Friday, Aug. 2 in Moorhead at the Hjemkomst Center, 202 1st Ave, N. Another northern Minnesota meeting is 1-4 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 13 at Duluth City Hall Council Chambers, 411 West 1st St. The sub-cabinet then goes to Rochester 1-4 p.m. Monday, Aug. 18 at Heintz Center Commons, Rochester Community and Technical College, 1926 College View Road.

The final listening sessions are in the Twin Cities, 1-3 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 10 and 3- 5 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 8 at Elmer Andersen Building, Room 2380, 540 Cedar St., St. Paul. Check the link to the plan to see if additional meetings are scheduled.

People may also read the plan and comment online. Anyone wanting to see the draft plan can go to http://bit.ly/19CtjNO