Olmstead Plan still needs work

Work on Minnesota’s Olmstead Plan, which outlines service reforms for people with disabilities, has hit a couple of bumps. On May 6 U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank said the 158-page plan again failed to meet several of his requests again, including measurable outcomes. The ruling marks the second time in eight months that Frank has scolded state officials. He is giving state officials until July 10 to submit a new plan.

“The time has come to truly serve the best interests of individuals with disabilities within the state of Minnesota,” Frank stated in his latest court filing. “Justice requires no less.”

The plan has undergone three revisions in almost three years. One worry for state officials is that Frank could take sanctions against the state for additional delays.  A bigger worry for Minnesotans with disabilities is that continued delays affect their ability to gain access to housing, jobs and services under an approved Olmstead Plan. While the plan is expected to be an evolving document that changes over time, the fact that Frank continues to find problems with the plan does trouble many disability community advocates.

All states are required to have Olmstead plans, which are named after Georgia state human services official Tommy Olmstead. A fight in that state over segregation of people with disabilities wound up before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1999. About three-fourths of states have plans in place.

Mary Tingerthal, head of the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency (MHFA), chairs the state’s Olmstead Sub-Cabinet. In a statement to the Star Tribune, Tingerthal said the state remains committed to the vision of serving people with disabilities in the most integrated settings possible, and that plan revisions will continue. MHFA is one of several state agencies involved in the planning process.

The plan is under scrutiny by individuals as well as organizations concerned about integration as well as the pace of the plan’s progress. Some have praised the plan and the goals it is trying to attain, while others have raised questions about specifics such as tracking and reporting methods, and how the lack of specifics effects of measurable goals. Questions have been raised about how plan progress will be tracked and monitored, and data collected. For example, the Minnesota Disability Law Center has filed briefs critical of the lack of tracking of how choices will be made between sheltered workshops or day programs, and more integrated work settings.

The other wrinkle in the debate over Olmstead is a recently launched Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) investigation of David Ferleger, the court monitor for the plan. DHS officials have contended that the review is needed because of the spending and violations of state policy. Ferleger countered that he has been conservative in his spending and has not even billed state officials for all of his time and expenses.

DHS auditors are trying to determine whether more than $1.24 million in expense invoices violate state policy and are excessive. According to the Star Tribune, DHS Commissioner Lucinda Jesson ordered the review after it was found that three first-class airline tickets valued at more than $1,000 had been purchased. That is a violation of state policy. State funds require use of lower airfares. Ferleger lives in Pennsylvania. He is also a consultant to the federal court in a class-action lawsuit centered on the state’s sex offender program and whether it is constitutional.

Frank appointed Ferleger oversee implementation of the 2011 court settlement centered on treatment of residents at the now-closed Minnesota Extended Treatment Options or METO facility in Cambridge. That settlement was not only meant to phase out the use of restraints and seclusions at state facilities, it also jump-started the state’s Olmstead Plan work.

Critics of DHS and the Olmstead process have questioned whether Ferleger is being singled out because of his criticism of plan progress and because he has taken DHS to task over issues including continued use of prone restraints and seclusion. Ferleger has also questioned information DHS has provided to the federal court. Correspondence and motions in the case have been contentious.

The Olmstead Sub-Cabinet continues to work on the plan and is seeking additional public comments. Those working on plan revisions would like comments on the current plan version by Fri, June 19. The plan may be seen here.  Or comment online at mn.gov/Olmstead Click “Participate” and follow instructions for an online form.

Comments can be sent to MNOlmsteadPlan@state.mn.us via email or mail to Olmstead Implementation Office, 400 Sibley Street, #255 St. Paul, MN 55101. Call 651-296-8081if there are questions.