Olmstead Plan is released

Minnesota’s long-awaited Olmstead Plan is a reality. But even though what is called the final version of the plan was published November 1, state leaders note it will be an evolving and changing document.

The Olmstead Plan is a way for the state to document its services provided to individuals with disabilities in the most integrated setting appropriate to the individual. Effective Olmstead plans include analysis of current services, concrete commitments to increase integration and to prevent unnecessary institutionalization, and specific and reasonable timeframes, among other components.

The plan covers employment, housing, transportation, health care and a range of other needs. Its latest draft is at http://tinyurl.com/m88uh4n

“This document is meant to be fluid,” said Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon, who led the Olmstead Subcabinet.

The subcabinet, which shepherded the plan through rewrites and series of community meetings, approved the plan October 22. The plan was then delivered October 31 to U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank for further review. In 2011 Frank called for the plan to be developed when settling the legal case against the former Minnesota Extended Treatment Options (METO) facility. The facility was sued for the mistreatment of residents.

Gov. Mark Dayton has reviewed and approved the plan. “All Minnesotans deserve the opportunity and quality services to live with dignity, be valued members of their communities, and make choices to improve the quality of their own lives. Minnesota’s new Olmstead Plan will help empower Minnesotans of all abilities to do exactly that,” the governor said.

Olmstead plans, which get their name from a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court decision, are meant to ensure that people with disabilities are able to live, work and enjoy life in the most integrated setting desired. The plans chart a course that will change the way state government provides services and support for people with disabilities. Minnesota’s plan efforts languished until a court settlement and Dayton’s January 2013 executive order forming an Olmstead Subcabinet and directing identified agencies to develop and implement an Olmstead Plan.

Minnesota joins 29 other states in preparing an Olmstead Plan.

“This is the first time that a comprehensive plan has been developed across all state agencies,” said Olmstead – from p. 1 Prettner Solon. “In the past, work to improve services and support for people with disabilities was conducted agency-by-agency. Minnesota’s new Olmstead Plan establishes a roadmap for improving the quality of life for people with disabilities.”

“The Minnesota Olmstead Plan provides an opportunity to assess our state’s progress toward assurance of equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency of individuals with disabilities,” said Colleen Wieck, executive director of the Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities and an Olmstead Sub-Cabinet ex-officio member. Other subcabinet members also praised the plan, saying it will help in the design of services to meet individuals’ needs. Ideas from the plan will be brought to state lawmakers in 2014.

The 132-page Olmstead Plan recognizes that Minnesotans with disabilities want choices in where they live, where they work or go to school, and how they participate in community life. The plan details how the state will move forward with a review of policies and procedures. The plan also identifies and addresses barriers to full integration that people with disabilities face. To ensure progress is made, the plan specifies goals and timeframes to measure progress. It’s a very wide-ranging plan, with goals ranging from adding more housing for people with disabilities to eliminating use of seclusion and restraints in state institutions.

The plan notes that it may take a cultural change in Minnesota to achieve some goals. It also indicates that change will not come without substantial costs. There still isn’t a cost estimate for implementing the plan. Nor have state officials decided whether or not a separate office should be tasked with following the plan.

The plan has not been without criticism. Many people have questioned why it has taken so long, given that the Olmstead decision requiring every state have a plan in place was 14 years ago. Some advocacy groups, families and state agencies have raised a variety of questions and issues during the recent review process and are continuing to call for changes in the final plan. One big question mark is how the plan will meet so many needs in the face of trends toward state budget cuts.

Organizations have spoken out. National Alliance for the Mentally Ill Minnesota has stated in its recent updates that the plan isn’t doing enough to meet the needs of Minnesotans with mental illness, and that too little is offered in the plan.

At an August meeting in Rochester several families and caregivers argued that in some cases a community-based setting could be overwhelming for some people with developmental disabilities, mental health issues or severe autism. Sandra Gerdes, executive director of Laura Baker Services Association in Northfield, was quoted in news accounts as urging subcabinet members to not take a one-size-fits-all approach to helping people with disabilities. One concern she and others raised is that community-based facilities like theirs could potentially be threatened by changes tied to the plan. The plan, coupled with a 2009 moratorium on new group homes, raises red flags for many families worried about where their loved ones could safely and independently live.

Another issue repeatedly raised in public testimony in rural Minnesota, residents often lack support services needed to stay in their own homes and to access activities and programs. Physical barriers, lack of appropriate housing, limited transportation options and limited support services are among issues people in rural areas face.

Employment opportunities, especially more “Employment First” efforts and integrated employment, are issues that were raised at every forum.

Prettner Solon said the plan’s website will remain in place, and the subcabinet will continue to meet. Public hearings will be held a couple of times a year on the plan. She and other subcabinet members said it’s important for the plan to be an evolving document and respond to changing needs.

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