Regional News - February 2022

Regional News - February 2022

Driver shortage causes delays 

A shortage of drivers for Metro Mobility buses creates challenges for many people with disabilities, as the COVID-19 pandemic and hiring challenges reduce the number of drivers. 

The team at WorkAbilities in Golden Valley depends on these services. “We want to give people a good day, we want to put a smile on their face,” said Luana Ball, executive director of WorkAbilities.  

WorkAbilities is a non-profit day services program that provides support for around 250 people with developmental disabilities. Clients range in service needs from high medically fragile more physically involved to people who are very independent. Ball said 90 percent of them rely on Metro Mobility to get there.  

Drivers say the work is rewarding. “The reason I’m doing this, is because I like people,” said Harry Ratliff, a Metro Mobility bus driver. Ratliff has been a bus operator for almost seven years.  

Metro Transit wants more people to step forward to be drivers. “We’ve never had a driver shortage quite like this,” said Stacie Richter, owner of Transit Team. Richter and her husband run Transit Team. They’re one of the providers of Metro Mobility and they hire the drivers that help people who are older, have a disability or have a health condition, get to where they need to go every day.  

“For a lot of them they may live alone or not get out very often and Metro Mobility is their lifeline,” Richter said.  

In January Metropolitan Council officials said their active driver count with Metro Mobility is 17 percent below their target number — and another 8 percent were out of work because of COVID-related issues.  

“It’s just a perfect storm right now,” Richter said.  

The staff at WorkAbilities is hoping it doesn’t get worse. “Huge impact, these individuals need very specialized transportation,” Ball said. “We wouldn’t be able to operate.” 

For anyone interested in becoming a bus operator, Ratliff says it’s about much more than just driving.  

“A wise old sage once said to me he said Harry if you want to be happy help somebody and that’s what we do every day here,” Ratliff said. “It’s not just a job, it’s something that you’re really making an impact on your community.” 

(Source: KSTP-TV) 

Access ramp plans debated 

A new disability access ramp to Minneapolis’ Midtown Greenway is planned. But neighbors are worried that construction would significantly alter the longstanding Soo Line Community Garden. The garden was established 30 years ago on a tax-forfeited vacant lot by volunteers, years before the greenway bike and pedestrian trails opened in 2000.  

It is considered by Minneapolis Park and Recreation to be a “legacy garden” because it existed before the Park Board took ownership of the land in 2010. More than 100 organic plots serve about 200 gardeners, including children from nearby Whittier International Elementary School. 

In a high-density neighborhood like Whittier, where most of the land flanking the Midtown Greenway corridor is private, the Soo Line Garden was the only government-owned site with enough room to feasibly build a gently sloping disability access ramp, said Amber Klein, design project manager. the county and engineering consultants have come up with a handful of potential designs over the past eight months Each design involves paving an 8- to 10-foot-wide, 500-foot two-way bituminous blacktop bikeway through the garden. 

Soo Line gardeners have opposed the plans at meetings and in an online petition, asking that a less intrusive way be found to provide greenway access. Gardeners have proposed an alternative design that would leave the garden intact and install the access ramp on the south slope of the Midtown Greenway. But that land is also eyed for a future high-speed transit line. 

Soren Jensen of the Midtown Greenway Coalition said the gardeners convinced him that an access ramp could coexist with the rail on the other side of the greenway from the garden. 

“There’s a lot of good reasons to explore it but so far Hennepin County has not even been very willing to think about it,” he said. “We would encourage them to be more open-minded and flexible.” 

(Source: Star Tribune) 

Changes to pooled trust services 

Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota assumed has assumed pooled trust services previously operated by The Arc Minnesota. The transition took effect at the start of 2022. 

The services are for individuals with disabilities. The transition will ensure that individuals served through Arc Minnesota’s Master Pooled Trust continue to preserve their pooled trust assets and maintain eligibility for important public benefits, such as social security income and Medicaid.  

“After much careful consideration around staff capacity, the direction of our programs and services, and the best interest of our beneficiaries, we have decided to transfer the Master Pooled Trust to Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota (LSS),” said Andrea Zuber, Arc Minnesota CEO. 

Lutheran Social Service provides pooled trust services to 600 individuals in Minnesota and North Dakota, processing more than $4 million in disbursements to beneficiaries annually. Pooled special needs trusts combine the financial resources of beneficiaries to lower administrative costs and optimize investment opportunities. Participation is affordable, pooling funds can achieve better returns on investments than other savings options and accounts can be established quickly – typically within three to five days. 

Pooled trusts can be established by an individual with disabilities or by a third party, such as family and friends of an individual with special needs. In addition to preserving public benefits, a pooled trust offers a low-cost way for individuals to access funds for expenses not covered by public benefits that bring joy and improve quality of life, such as education, recreational activities, vacation, and pet care. 

“We are honored to continue this important work to ensure people with disabilities enjoy a high quality of life,” said Roxanne Jenkins, associate vice president for Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota. 

(Source: Arc Minnesota, LSS) 

Deficiencies lead to closure 

Twin City Gardens, a Minneapolis nursing home, must close. State and Hennepin County officials, along with a managing agent, worked in January to relocate the facility’s residents. The closing was announced by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). 

The closing affects 28 residents and 53 employees. They were informed of the decisions on January 5. The target closing date is in early March but it’s not clear when all residents will find new places that can meet their needs. 

MDH filed for receivership and assumed control of Twin City Gardens Nursing Home in October 2021 under a receivership order granted by a Ramsey County judge. The temporary measure allowed regulators to protect residents’ safety and ensure continued care while operations and management issues at the facility were addressed. Pathway Health, a professional management organization, served as the facility’s managing agent during the receivership. 

Closure is not typically the first option for facilities in receivership. but scrutiny found that the nursing home facilities are in poor condition and need capital repairs that the State of Minnesota is unable to complete by law.  

“With a leaking roof, mold, and other extensive repairs needed to the building, the best and safest option at this point is to move residents to new homes,” said MDH Health Regulation Division Director Martha Burton Santibáñez. “We try to avoid facility closure during receivership situations, but the condition of the building limited our options.” 

Necessary repairs include a roof replacement, remediation to address mold in the ceiling, and extensive carpet repair or replacement. In some places, the carpet is held together with duct tape. Such repairs involve major alterations to the physical structure of the nursing home, which the state by law cannot do. 

(Source: Minnesota Department of Health) 

Foster placement trend cited 

While reports of child maltreatment have dropped in Hennepin County since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, a larger share of foster care placements has resulted from families unable to care for children due to mental illness. 

In 2019, when the county handled more than 1,000 foster care entries, 8.3 percent were primarily mental health-related. In 2021, that percentage nearly doubled, meaning mental health was among the top reasons children were placed in foster care — along with caretaker drug abuse and physical abuse. 

The county handled 537 foster care entries this year, and more than 80 were mental health-related, according to county-provided data as of December 2021. Numbers include children entering foster care because of their mental health or their caretakers’ mental health. 

Amid the rise in mental illness that has accompanied the pandemic both locally and nationwide, Hennepin County and the state of Minnesota are expanding their services to families. 

“The data we’ve gathered clearly illustrate a need for collaboration between child protection and behavioral health,” Leah Kaiser, the county’s behavioral health director, wrote in a statement. “We will continue to identify needs early and respond to them in a coordinated way to improve outcomes and reduce disproportionate impacts in communities of color.” County officials are working with families to stabilize their circumstances to families requesting support. 

Typically, a family whose child needs mental health treatment voluntarily places them in the protection system, rather than the child being sent to foster care through a court order. Since 2015, voluntary placements made up more than three-quarters of foster care entries in which the mental issues of children were the main reason. So far in 2021, about 95 percent were voluntary. 

A new law will soon offer another way for families to access mental health services for their children. Known among mental health advocates as the “third path,” the Children’s Mental Health Residential Service Path will provide county-funded treatment without the child having to enter the protection system, likely reducing foster-care placements in Hennepin County due to mental health concerns. The Minnesota Department of Human Services said it will be implemented in the first quarter of 2022 

(Source: Star Tribune) 

Focus on employment barriers 

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) has announced $13.5 million in Pathways to Prosperity (P2P) grantee funds, which will be released through three programs focusing on providing clear career pathways to Minnesotans who face systemic barriers to employment.  

The three programs, On-Ramp to Career Pathways, Bridge to Career Pathways, and a P2P Individualized Training Program were created in response to needs identified by communities across Minnesota. In response to those needs, the three programs are a more holistic approach on how to structure the P2P program. Each program focuses on a participant’s career pathway and allows for providers to deliver clear paths to a career, no matter which level of educational attainment the participant currently holds. The three programs emphasize educational attainment, coupled with navigation services and barrier removal, to increase mobility, employability, and skills leading to higher wages.  

On-Ramp to Career Pathways will reach Minnesotans interested in earning a certificate and/or improving their employment skills. Career Pathways Bridge will reach Minnesotans seeking to improve skills or obtain new skills to earn an industry-recognized credential. Pathways to Prosperity Individualized Training Program will reach Minnesotans seeking training in four targeted specific industry sectors: healthcare, information technology, skilled trades, and advanced manufacturing (or another high growth, in-demand sector earning a median wage of $15 per hour and is specific to the local service area). Each program has specific requirements. 

“Pathways to Prosperity is such an important grant program for our state, and I’m thrilled with the extraordinary collection of organizations receiving awards today,” said DEED Commissioner Steve Grove. “It’s the job of government to invest in people who face the biggest barriers to employment. These dollars are critical to expanding opportunity for Minnesotans and growing our economy.”  

Partners in the program include several Minnesota organizations that provide services to people with disabilities. 

(Source: Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development)