Regional News – February 2024

New higher education center offers assistance to students  As a means of increasing college options for Minnesota students with intellectual […]

Two students posing for picture.

New higher education center offers assistance to students 

As a means of increasing college options for Minnesota students with intellectual disability, the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Community Integration (ICI) has unveiled a new Inclusive Higher Education Technical Assistance Center. The center is collaborating with the Minnesota Office of Higher Education  as it implements a competitive grant process this spring. The grants will provide up to $1.425 million in the first two years of the program (fiscal years 2024 and 2025) to eligible Minnesota higher education institutions that create or enhance postsecondary education programs providing meaningful credentials upon graduation to students with intellectual disability. 

“Universities want to increase enrollment of students from diverse backgrounds, and there is nobody more excluded from higher education than people with intellectual disability and people with disability of any kind, for that matter,” said ICI Director Amy Hewitt. 

Established by state statute in the 2023 legislative session, the Technical Assistance Center is coordinating and providing expertise on Minnesota’s inclusive higher education opportunities and providing information to students with intellectual disability and their families, educators, and state agency staff. It is also collaborating with state education officials on the grant program. Mary Hauff, director of ICI’s Minnesota Inclusive Higher Education Consortium, is director of the new center. 

“We’re optimistic about the enthusiasm we’ve seen thus far for bringing substantially more opportunities for higher education in Minnesota for students with intellectual disability,” Hauff said. “There are a number of colleges and universities that are, in fact, now pursuing inclusive higher ed initiatives on their campuses. And in conversations with the existing programs, we know there is interest in improving and expanding their offerings.” 

The center will support colleges and universities to design, implement, and evaluate post-secondary education programs consistent with Minnesota standards that are best-practice, research-informed, and aligned with national accreditation standards. 
“They will be truly inclusive programs, where students are part of the fabric of college life and not segregated to separate programs that are limited to teaching life skills,” Hewitt said. 

About 1,000 Minnesota students with intellectual disability complete 12th grade each year, and there are about 5,000 students with such a disability who are college age. Minnesota’s capacity, however, is limited to about 90 students per year because just three colleges and universities out of more than 200 are designated as comprehensive transition and postsecondary programs. 

In February, the center presented a learning community event by Beth Myers of Syracuse University, who leads InclusiveU. The Syracuse program is a federally recognized model for college students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 
Other projects addressing inclusive education at ICI include the National Center for College Students with Disabilities, the only federally-funded national center with information and resources for future and current college students with disabilities; Community-based, Collaborative Transition Model for Minnesota Youth with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, a designated Project of National Significance; and the TIES Center, which works with states, districts, and schools to support the movement of students with disabilities, including those with extensive support needs, from less inclusive to more inclusive environments. 

(Source: University of Minnesota ICI) 

Nursing home workers to strike 

Hundreds of nursing home workers across the Twin Cities will go on a one-day strike March 5. Workers will stage a one-day strike on March 5 to protest being overworked, understaffed and underpaid. 

As Access Press went to press workers at 10 nursing homes had announced an intent to strike: St. Therese Senior Living in New Hope; the Estates nursing homes in Excelsior, Fridley and Roseville; the Villas at The Cedars in St. Louis Park; Cerenity Humboldt in St. Paul and the Villas in Robbinsdale. 

Staff said they are burning out from taking extra shifts because of staffing shortages, and that aren’t getting the wages or benefits they deserve. 

Jamie Gulley is the President of SEIU Health Care for Minnesota and Iowa, the union representing these nursing home workers. Travis Burth is a union member. Burth has worked for three years at Cerenity at Humboldt Nursing Home. He currently works there as a chef and has been part of the push at the capitol to improve conditions for nursing home workers. 

Cerenity Senior Care said in a statement it supports “SEIU Healthcare Minnesota’s position that our associates deserve a wage increase. Associates who work in senior living communities are hardworking, compassionate people who are committed to the care of Minnesota’s elders.” 

It also said the legislature needs to fund higher wages for caregivers: “Humboldt has been conducting good faith negotiations for some time and have offered economic incentives at levels higher than market trends. Cerenity-Humboldt will continue to make every effort to reach a satisfactory settlement with our associates represented by SEIU Healthcare Minnesota.” 

In an interview with MPR, Burth said many care workers regard residents as family. 
“So taking this action to go on strike, even for one day, it’s a hard decision for us to make. We think it’s important to make that decision, however, because of the stakes and what’s at issue. And what really is at issue here is that the conditions for workers in nursing homes have deteriorated such that we we’re working short, we’re working doubles, we’re working many days in a row, workers reporting working 20, 30 days in a row. And it’s just not sustainable, and so we are taking this action to highlight the conditions in nursing homes and to call for change.” 

(Source: Minnesota Public Radio) 

Help available for employers 

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development is rolling out the Employer Reasonable Accommodation Fund. The funds are for small to medium-sized employers who can request reimbursement for expenses relating to reasonable accommodations for applicants and employees with disabilities. 

Across Minnesota, people with disabilities are working in every kind of job. Some have adapted some part of their job so that it fits how they work with a specific disability. 
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to pay for the cost of reasonable workplace accommodations for employees with disabilities. The new fund from the State of Minnesota is reimbursing small and mid-sized Minnesota businesses for the cost of those accommodations. 

The purpose of the new Employer Reasonable Accommodation Fund is to remove any perceived or real financial barriers to hiring and retaining employees with disabilities. For job seekers with disabilities, the fund can take away some of the worry about applying for jobs and asking for needed accommodations. 

A reasonable accommodation is any modification or adjustment that enables a person with a disability to do their job. Reasonable accommodations might include better lighting, a standing desk, ASL interpreting, specialized software, and more. A list of some common examples of accommodations can be found at https://mn.gov/deed/business/financing-business/eraf/qualifications.jsp 

The fund provides details on how the program works, eligibility requirements, and much more. The program coordinator, Ray McCoy is also available to answer any questions and guide employers through the simple reimbursement process. he can be reached at [email protected] or by calling 651-539-2318. 

(Source: State of Minnesota) 

DHS purchases Minneapolis housing 

The Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) has purchased the new SoPHI apartments at 811 E. Lake St. in Minneapolis. The 48-unit building includes studio units, as well as modern common areas and a bike storage room. It even is to have a new Los Compos restaurant. 

Finance & Commerce reports that DHS has paid $7.575 million to buy the building with plans to launch a new kind of amenity package. The state plans to provide residential and support services in an integrated setting for clients with intellectual and developmental disabilities and mental illness. 

DHS Health System CEO Marshall Smith explained the project in a news release announcing the acquisition. 

“Our programming at the SoPhi apartments will give our clients with disabilities and mental illness the support they need to live more rewarding and independent lives in an integrated community setting,” he said. “It’s an exciting new level of care that prepares them to be more self-directed, make choices about their lives that most of us take for granted, and participate more deeply in the community where they live, work and play.” 

The project has three goals. One is to expand much-needed housing options and quality of life for clients who are able to live more independent lives. It will provide 24/7 staff support to help them to live, work and participate in the community successfully. 
It substantially reduces the cost of caring for clients compared with group homes or adult foster care settings. It substantially reduces the number of staff necessary to provide the same level of care. 

Minneapolis-based North Bay Cos. developed the building, which opened in 2023. Unit sizes range from 461 to 547 square feet, according to the website. The website indicates that no units are available. 

The price works out to $157,813 per unit. The average sales price per unit for apartments in the Twin Cities metro area is $153,833, according to the Finance & Commerce Apartment Sales Tracker at finance-commerce.com. The tracker has recorded the sale of 84,820 apartment units since Aug. 31, 2011. 

DHS plans to reserve 24 units for its clients, with 24 available to the public. Rent will continue to be at or near market rates. Level 10 Property Management will continue to manage the property. 

The program will be run by the DHS Direct Care and Treatment Administration, which serves about 12,000 people a year with mental illness, substance abuse disorders, and developmental and intellectual disabilities. The announcement notes that because their conditions are complex and challenging to treat, other health care providers cannot or will not serve these patients. The DHS-operated health care system includes psychiatric hospitals and inpatient mental health treatment facilities, inpatient substance-abuse treatment facilities, dental clinics, group homes, vocational training sites, and other treatment facilities. In all, DHS delivers these services at about 150 sites statewide.

(Source: Finance & Commerce) 

Peer recovery needs cited 

Peer recovery specialists have been key to helping many people struggling with addiction, but Minnesota lawmakers are considering safeguards to prevent bad actors in a growing field that has had little oversight. 

The peer recovery workers receive professional training and “walk alongside” a person experiencing addiction, helping them set and meet goals, said Wendy Jones, who leads the Minnesota Alliance of Recovery Community Organizations. 

“They model from their own lived experience, but they also have a deep knowledge of resources in the community,” Jones said. “It fills that spot that a lot of people need.” 
Peer recovery services came under scrutiny amid concerns about the nonprofit Refocus Recovery and its related for-profit company, Kyros. A KARE 11 series highlighted issues with the company, including problems with improper billing. Minnesota’s Department of Human Services Inspector General Kulani Moti said they had been aware of concerns with the organizations before the media scrutiny and have an ongoing investigation into Kyros and Refocus Recovery. 

Daniel Larson, who founded Refocus Recovery and Kyros, was ill Wednesday and unable to respond to an interview request, a spokesman said. 

While lawmakers noted frustrations with the organization, they stressed that many recovery community organizations that run peer programs are doing essential work across the state. 

Minnesota started to allow recovery community organizations (RCOs) to bill Medicaid for peer recovery services in 2018. When Minnesota first allowed the billing, there were only a few of the organizations here. Now, Jones said, there are at least 23. 

Jones said her group and the national Alliance of Recovery Community Organizations are launching certification processes to more formally vet organizations that want to do the work. 

There are various steps the state could also take to ensure those programs’ integrity, said Kristy Graume, legislative director for Behavioral Health, Housing, Deaf-Hard-of-Hearing and Disability Services. State officials have been talking to community members since last year about potential additional oversight and enrollment requirements for providers. 

Mandates for individual recovery plans, more review processes and finding a better way to address complaints are also suggestions. 

(Source: Star Tribune) 

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