Work on Minnesota’s Olmstead Plan continues, as the plan office’s new executive director introduced herself to the community. Darlene Zangara took time during the 24th anniversary Minnesota Americans with Disabilities Act celebration July 25 to introduce herself and outline what is happening with the plan. Zangara was hired earlier this year as director of Minnesota’s Olmstead Plan Implementation Office. She and a team of leaders will implement a plan to improve the way Minnesota provides services and support to people with disabilities.
The event was held in St. Paul at the Minnesota Department of Human Services. Addressing the crowd in American Sign Language with an interpreter and captioning, Zangara said that while much has changed in 24 years, “we have a long way to go” to satisfy the promise of equal access for all. But she also said Minnesota is moving in the right direction. “I want complete and equal access,” she said. “How many of you want that?” The crowd applauded loudly.
Zangara told the group she is committed to the Olmstead Plan and its implementation. She said it was a “historic moment” when state agencies came together to work on the plan. She said that for the plan to be a success and for Minnesota to be a place where all can live, learn and enjoy life,
The celebration was the first chance for many community members to meet Zangara. She is the founder of Leveraging Your Voice, a consulting company that worked with people with disabilities.
She also has worked with Communication Services for the Deaf, led the Ohio Resource Center on Deafness, and served on numerous boards and commissions and as adjunct faculty member at several colleges and universities.
To promote change and inclusion, Zangara urged all Minnesotans with disabilities to get involved with work on the Olmstead Plan. The plan serves as frame work as a framework to help people with disabilities choose where they live, where they work or go to school, and how they participate in community life. All states are required to have similar plans, as a result of a federal court decision.
Zangara and a panel of state agency leader have been working to gather comments on the Minnesota plan draft. A number of changes have been made. Proposed plan modifications were submitted the court on July 10. The modifications as well as a June 20 sub-cabinet report to the court are posted online, as are other plan updates, meeting minutes and other documents. Information has been added recently on how to request an audio version of the November 1, 2013 Minnesota Olmstead Plan.
To link to documents and other information, go here.
The latest set of plan modifications brought forward in July fill three pages. They include comments held during listening sessions. (The last of which was to be held as Access Press went to press.) Other changes are technical in nature and include needed definitions and background information.
Modifications cover lifelong learning and education, transportation, supports and services, healthcare and healthy living, community engagement, employment and housing. One section was added to provide more information on person-centered planning. That has been a concern for many advocates, who believe more must be done at the county and state levels to promote person-centered planning rather than institutionalization.
Throughout the latest modifications are calls for more attention to issues facing people leaving correctional institutions and how to address the challenges they face in finding housing, work, and supports and services. Another issue getting scrutiny is use of restraints, especially use of prone restraints in schools.
Other focuses include more use of assistive technology and plans to expand technology use, establishing a baseline to measure housing stability, and looking at measures to improvement the patient experience of care.
Another action item in the proposed modifications is to start collecting stories to determine whether the Olmstead Plan is improving peoples’ lives.
All states are required to have Olmstead plans, but progress has been mixed. Minnesota’s Olmstead Plan work was pushed into gear almost three years ago, by the settlement of a federal court case against Minnesota Extended Treatment Options (METO). Families with loved ones there claimed mistreatment by facility staff
The settlement of Jensen versus METO brought the need for an Olmstead Plan into prominence. Gov. Mark Dayton called for work on the plan to begin as quickly as possible. But Minnesota’s plan efforts have been criticized for not moving quickly enough and for missing deadlines for action. That has concerned the U.S. District Court and disability rights advocates who are monitoring the plan. U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank has scolded state officials in his rulings, noting the slow pace of change.
A Star Tribune article recently noted that county social workers across the state have yet to be trained on how to provide individual support for disabled people moving out of institutions and into their own communities, as required by the settlement. Federal court officials are concerned that there isn’t broad understanding of the court settlement and its mandates.
The article also cited a second case noted by the court monitor. A 24-year-old man who moved to a group home for people with disabilities found that the staff kept his shoes locked in a closet along with those of other residents. The man had to ask when he wanted to wear his shoes. Many other aspects of the man’s life, including snack times, family visits and use of plastic utensils, also were restricted by group home staff. For some people with disabilities, the monitor wrote, such services “are more life-wasting than life-fulfilling.”
The court monitor has also worked with outside consultants to track and review what happened to six people released from a state facility for people with developmental disabilities. The monitor learned that county case managers and community service providers had little to no knowledge of the settlement’s requirements and the focus on person-centered planning.
The settlement was reached in December 2011. The draft Olmstead Plan was released last year. State officials have been working to comply with the settlement, including reducing use of physical restraints and moving toward person-centered care in communities. More than 6,000 state employees have been trained in person-centered planning and other elements of the settlement, and efforts are underway to train county workers.
More changes are coming. “We’ve undertaken a lot of major changes in a very short period of time,” Gregory Gray, chief compliance officer for the Minnesota Department of Human Services, told the Star Tribune.
“It’s been a complete paradigm shift in how we handle individuals with disabilities.” Gray said the department had to “get our own shop in order” by training state employees before extending the training to the county level, which could take more than a year. “It’s an ambitious effort, and a lot of it depends on buy-in from the counties,” he said.
Statewide surveys to measure quality of life for people with disabilities will continue over the next several months.