Our look back at what made 2013 headlines

  January The merger of Courage Center and Sister Kenny Rehabilitation Institution was underway. The merger, which was completed in […]

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The merger of Courage Center and Sister Kenny Rehabilitation Institution was underway. The merger, which was completed in spring 2013, was the end of one era and the start of another for two of Minnesota’s largest and oldest disability service organizations. The merged organization took the name Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute under the umbrella of Allina Health.

Family caregivers, who had taken a 20 percent pay cut in 2011, celebrated a legal victory. The Minnesota County of Appeals ruled that family caregivers shouldn’t be paid less than non-family caregivers. The case, Healthstar Home Health Inc., et al, vs. Jesson, was filed in the fall of 2011.

The Arc Minnesota honored three women for decades of advocacy. Jane Donnelly Birks, Sally Swallen Helmerichs and Molly Woehrlin were recognized as pioneer lobbyists and advocates. Their work at the state capitol and elsewhere began in the 1960s, at a time when it was uncommon to see women lobbyists in that arena. They were honored not only for their years of hard work, but for serving as an inspiration for many other families.

The newly reorganized Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MN-CCD) was starting the 2013 legislative session with its first-ever executive director, Rebecca Covington.




The 2013 Minnesota Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton wound up an eventful first month. Dozens of bills affecting people with disabilities were introduced. Legislators and advocates were working toward their first deadline, March 15, when bills needed favorable action from the House or Senate. Dayton announced two major initiatives for people with disabilities. A package of reforms would provide better health care for 100,000 Minnesotans and lower costs for taxpayers. In an effort to further improve the state’s Medicaid program, the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) partnered with six health care providers to test a new payment model. The governor also jump-started efforts toward completing Minnesota’s long-awaited Olmstead Plan. A group would develop and implement a plan to support freedom of choice and opportunity to live, work and participate in the most inclusive setting for individuals with disabilities.

When guardians and conservators financially or physically abuse their clients’ vulnerabilities, the results can be disastrous. Recent cases in Minnesota illustrate why more protections were needed, according to Attorney General Lori Swanson.

The ReelAbilities Film Festival announced its first showings in Minnesota. The event is the largest festival in the country dedicated to promoting awareness and appreciation of the lives, stories and artistic expressions of people with disabilities. Partnership Resources, Inc. was leading the planning.




Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) officials were criticized in a Minnesota Legislative Auditor’s report. The report indicated that new ways must be found to manage state-operated facilities and services for people with mental illness, chemical dependency and developmental disabilities. A number of problems were found, topped by what was described as inadequate oversight and accountability. Auditor James Nobles told state lawmakers that the audit revealed “significant and persistent problems.”

Medical suppliers and their clients were coping with a federal change that restricts where supplies and equipment can be purchased. Minnesota-based Key Medical Supply had sued federal health and human services officials over a new federal competitive bidding program. The Key Medical case was dismissed by U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank on technical grounds. The case was later refiled. The restrictions on where clients can purchase supplies and equipment, and get equipment repaired, were causing great concern.

Home health care workers were seeking the right to unionize, one of many issue before the 2013 Minnesota Legislature. The legislation targeted workers who aren’t employed by an agency.

The Northland 300 Ride marked its 25th year of snowmobile riding fun.




Minnesotans with disabilities and senior citizens objected to a new state law limiting earnings for those on Minnesota’s Medicaid or Medical Assistance (MA) program. The change is tied to the federal Affordable Care Act. It was criticized by the state’s disability groups because it specifically leaves out Minnesotans with disabilities, while allowing other medical program participants to earn more. The push to support fair health care policy for all was a key focus during the 2013 legislative session. The Minnesotan Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MN-CCD) noted that the new law leaves people with disabilities and seniors behind. MN-CCD and ADAPT-MNwere among the groups working to address the issue. The objection centers on the fact that people with disabilities and seniors who don’t have earned income and who live on income from Social Security must give the state hundreds of dollars through a spend-down before they can gain access to the MA program.

More than 190 farmers and ranchers with disabilities, speakers and vendors took a break from spring work to attend the National AgrAbility training conference held April 8-11 in Bloomington. Farmers and ranchers with disabilities are served by the AgrAbility project, which just marked its 20th anniversary nationally.




Cuts to services for people with disabilities have devastating effect on families who are draining savings accounts and selling assets to pay for their children’s medical supports. Adults without assistance are struggling to meet even basic needs. But until state legislators raise revenues, challenges will continue. That was the message self-advocates and families took to the capitol during the annual Disability Day at the Capitol April 25.

When light rail trains begin operations on the Central Corridor or Green Line route in 2014, getting to some stations may be easier said than done. Sidewalks leading to University Avenue are broken, narrow, overgrown with brush and trees, or are poorly lit. And that’s where there are sidewalks. The Green Line Walkability Study: Routes to Rails in the Central Corridor was released by the District Councils Collaborative. It is seen as the first step in making changes. Activists were also campaigning to get downtown St. Paul skyway connection to light rail.

Access Press hosted guests from Baku, Azerbaijan and the Czech Republic. The guest from Azerbaijan was in this country to learn about how to create a more favorable environment for children with disabilities in his own country. The Czech Republic delegation was a Rotary-sponsored group learning about the news media.




For Minnesotans with disabilities, family members and caregivers, the 2013 session of the Minnesota Legislature was remembered for key gains and major disappointments. A number of investments in health care marked the session. MinnesotaCare was preserved and Medicaid expanded. Steps were taken to implement the Affordable Care Act, including the creation of an insurance exchange. More money was found for special education, with an additional $40 million passed as part of the $15.7 billion education budget. Autism insurance changes also met cheers. But not everyone benefited from the state’s $38.3 billion budget. Personal care attendants saw only a modest rate increase, which meant planning got underway for 2014.

After a combined 27 hours’ debate on the floors of the Minnesota House and Senate, about 21,000 Minnesotans who provide state-paid personal care attendant services or child care won the right to unionize. Foes of the measure have vowed to take legal action to block it. The groups have until 2017 to decide whether or not to organize.

Longtime job service organization Midway Training Services changed its name to Ally People Solutions. The new name was seen as more reflective of the nonprofit organization’s mission and services.




July 1 was a significant date for Minnesotans who rely on medical supplies for daily living. New federal regulations on competitive bidding for Medicare suppliers took effect in the Twin Cities region. People questioned where supplies would come from and if costs would increase. While some suppliers contend that needed

medical goods would arrive with little disruption and at the same or lower costs, clients and other suppliers worried about quality of products, long shipping delays and how equipment would be serviced. Some suppliers feared lost business and ultimately economic survival, as well as client harm. “If even one person is injured due to competitive bidding, it’s unacceptable,” said Mike Bailey, chief executive officer of St. Paul-based Handi Medical Supply.

Minnesotans weighed in on quality of life issues as part of the state’s Olmstead Plan. Release of an 83-page draft plan and opportunity to comment drew a large crowd June 19 to the DS Event Center in St. Paul.

Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid celebrated its centennial. The agency, which includes the Disability Law Center, has a long tradition of representing the legal rights of people with disabilities, senior citizens and low-income Minnesotans.




Just 5 percent. That is what Minnesotans with disabilities, aging adults, care providers, family members and advocates are requesting from state lawmakers. The 5% Campaign was gaining momentum to reverse years of funding cuts to reimbursement rates to home and community based services. Advocates with disabilities, older adults, caregivers, providers and family members throughout Minnesota sought what they call a “long-overdue” rate increase. Nursing home workers received a 5 percent reimbursement increase from state lawmakers in 2013. But facilities and direct support providers for people with disabilities and aging adults only saw a 1 percent increase in the final health and human services bill.

Voting changes would take effect in the fall and in 2014. The most anticipated change starts in 2014 when No Excuses Absentee Voting begins. Many Minnesotans with disabilities and senior citizens use absentee voting as a means to cast ballots without waiting in long lines or arranging transportation. The law allows the voter to claim permanent absentee voter status, getting an absentee ballot mailed before each election.

Several University of Minnesota Gopher football players made a surprise appearance for campers and staff at Camp Friendship. Football players and campers had a fun day together, which ended with campers lining up for autographed maroon and gold t-shirts.




Construction was underway on a new vertical connection between downtown St. Paul streets and the skyway system. The elevator and stairway tower would connect to bus routes and the new METRO Green Line light rail, which opens in mid-2014. Rick Cardenas, co-director of Advocating Change Together, was the leaders in getting the $1.7 million connection built. A combination of funders paid for the elevator project.

Longtime services provider Dakota Communities had a new name and logo. Living Well Disability Services was the chosen name to better reflect the agency’s work in providing residential care in client’s homes, as well as in its own group homes.

Camps of Courage and Friendship (now True Friends) announced a new partnership with Creative Learning Ideas for Body and Mind or CLIMB Theater. The camping program added the theater program to its extensive list of offering. The program is the result of a merger between Camp Courage and Friendship Ventures.

Augsburg College’s Cal Appleby topped a field of 13 candidates for the 2013 Access Press Charlie Smith Award.




Computer problems at the state level delayed paychecks and hiring of staff bedeviled home health care and personal care attendant agencies around the state.

The Minnesota Department of Human Services’ Minnesota Information Technology Services (MN-ITS) system, which is used by Minnesota Health Care Programs providers, had been malfunctioning for almost a month. Agencies that file receipts through the system must do so to get Medicaid reimbursements.

About 52,000 providers use MN-ITS to issue payroll and to check the backgrounds of prospective workers. The Olmstead Plan Subcabinet was wrapping up its work. The subcabinet posted a final draft of the plan on the DHS website, including comments gathered from hearings around the state. The plan describes how the state is to provide services to people with disabilities, in the most integrated settings appropriate to their needs. While the plan won praise for addressing some issues, some parts of the plan were criticized. One area of criticism was mental health services.

Planning was underway for the Twin Cities’ hosting of Reelabilities, a film festival dedicated to promoting awareness and appreciation of the lives, stories and artistic expression of people with disabilities.




The 5% Campaign continued to gain momentum, with a huge rally at the capitol and statewide outreach. The goal was to get legislators to pledge support for a 5 percent personal care attendant wage increase before the 2014 legislative session began. Many disability advocacy groups were involved with the campaign, which was a focus during a series of MN-CCD meeting during the fall. Gov. Mark Dayton told advocates that while he agreed with the pay equity issues being raised, he was concerned about long-term impacts on state spending.

The Olmstead Plan was released November 1, to criticism and praise. State leaders said that plan would be an evolving document with regular reviews and updates. The plan helps the state document its services for people with disabilities including housing, education, health care, transportation and employment.

Access Press Charlie Smith Award winner Cal Appleby was honored by a full house at the newspaper’s annual award banquet. Appleby and two deceased Augsburg College colleagues, Vern Bloom and Wayne “Mo” Moldenhauer did much to serve people with disabilities, especially in providing access to higher education.




The 5% Campaign made itself heard. Hundreds of supporters jammed all three levels of the capitol rotunda November 12 in a show of force before the 2014 Minnesota Legislature convenes February 25. Self-advocates, organization representatives, families, personal care attendants and direct support providers turned out to support the call for a 5 percent rate increase for home- and community-based services for people with disabilities. They were also joined by several of their Minnesota legislative allies.

Old tangled and broken piles of Christmas light strings could be recycled through January 31 and provide jobs for people with disabilities. Help the environment by replacing old lights with new, energy-efficient lights. Help employ people with disabilities and help reach the goal of collecting and processing 200,000 pounds of lights this season. Recycle Your Holidays is a one-of-a-kind statewide holiday light recycling program in Minnesota created and managed by the Recycling Association of Minnesota.

Access Press released The Real Story in October after a year of production and is offering DVDs for sale. The documentary examines media coverage of disability issues in Minnesota and nationally and examines the role of mainstream media in reporting on issues important to all people with disabilities. It had its first premiere at the University of Minnesota’s McNamara Alumni Center in late October. (Additional film showings can be hosted by contacting Access Press.)



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