Regional News in Review – April 2017

Work center faces maltreatment claims An investigation by the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) alleges serious maltreatment of some […]

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Work center faces maltreatment claims

An investigation by the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) alleges serious maltreatment of some clients at the Adult Training and Habilitation Center in Hutchinson. The report stated that a staff member inflicted emotional, physical and sexual abuse on five clients dating to January 2017.

The alleged incidents took place in a recycling center where the suspect and victims worked. According to DHS, the victims each had some form of mental and/or physical disability. The staff member was fired in late January.

After the state concluded its investigation, the report was sent to the Hutchinson Police Department. “We received the report from the state, and they do their investigation and then we do ours,” said Hutchinson Police Chief Daniel Hatten. “Right now we have finished our end of the investigation, and we have handed off our findings to the city and county attorneys, and they are now reviewing it for possible criminal charges.” The report was sent to both city and county attorney offices because of the extent of potential charges, which could range from misdemeanor to felony. Until there are charges, the suspect’s name won’t be released. Source: KSTP-TV


Missing man’s remains found

Remain remains March 25 near Brainerd have been identified as those of a man who was missing for more than two years. Marc Welzant lived with developmental disabilities stemming from Prader-Willi syndrome.

Brainerd Police Chief Corky McQuiston stated in a news release that the cause of death has not yet been determined but there are no preliminary indications that foul play is involved. Police said Welzant’s remains were located on private property not far from the Mississippi River in an undeveloped wooded area, just two miles from where he was last seen in October 2014.

Welzant was last seen the afternoon of October 26, 2014, after he left his group home. He was later seen on the walking trail at Kiwanis Park.

Welzant, who is the youngest of 11 siblings, was diagnosed with Prader-Willi syndrome at two years of age. The rare genetic disorder that can result in a range of cognitive and physical issues.

Welzant’s birthday was celebrated on March 17. He would have turned 50 this year. Source: Forum News Service


Inspired, family helps others in need

Inspired by the care given to their son, a Pequot Lakes family is collecting donations for children in need. In May 2016 when the Brandi and Ryan Larson family was at a race track, then 3-year-old Eli Larson had a health issue.

“He just kind of started having seizures, and we didn’t know why,” Brandi Larson said. “It kind of hit with a bang. At first we thought it was a heat stroke when it got really hot.”

The condition, which started with one seizure, soon turned into several daily and then more yet. The boy was having hundreds of seizures each day and had to hospitalized. Eli Larson was diagnosed with epilepsy. Brandi Larson said that while their son’s epilepsy was being brought under control, the family saw how many things hospital staff did for children. The family watched the staff at the hospital comfort their child and teach him to take his medicines by whatever means necessary. They experienced firsthand how frightening the experience was and were thankful for the little things the staff did to comfort the scared parents and children.

The Larsons have now started Eli’s Epilepsy Project to help other children and families in need, by preparing backpacks full of items that can comfort ill children. The goal was to fill backpacks with comforting items for the children on the hospital’s neurology floor. Each backpack to be donated includes a stuffed animal, a coloring book and crayons, small toys and a tied fleece blanket.

Larson is accepting donations of these specific items, but also monetary donations to help fill the bags evenly. The family has prepared more than 60 packs and hopes to keep making more. The Larsons also hope the project will increase awareness and understanding of epilepsy. Source: Duluth News-Tribune


Bridge replacement is sought

For more than 45 years, students from St. Paul Public Schools have traveled to Belwin Conservancy in Afton to study science. Students explore Belwin’s native prairies, wetlands and woodlands through a series of paved paths accessible to those with disabilities. Unfortunately, one of the bridges that connects a classroom to the paved paths is “old and worn and must be replaced,” said Susan Haugh, Belwin’s program manager.

“It crosses Bull Rush Slough,” Haugh said. “The bridge goes over the water, and it is primarily used by students with special needs.”

Belwin has set up a special fundraising site at to raise $17,000 to build a new bridge that will be wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs, Haugh said. As of late March the conservancy had raised more than $11,000. To contribute, go here. Belwin owns more than 1,300 acres in and around Afton. Source: Pioneer Press


More elders are homeless

According to a Wilder Foundation study, the number of homeless senior citizens is rising in Minnesota. That’s a troubling trend for social service and community development agencies, where the demand is being seen.

“I think we’re starting to see the beginning of the wave,” said Sue Koesterman, executive director of Churches United for the Homeless shelter in Moorhead. “And I’m not sure how broadly this is being engaged yet. It needs to be talked about.”

Across Minnesota seniors still constitute a relatively small part of the overall homeless population, but they are the fastest growing segment of homeless people, according to the survey. It’s a problem that’s expected to intensify as a wave of baby boomers age into retirement over the next 20 years. But the growth isn’t being driven by chronically homeless boomers turning 65. Many people are experiencing homelessness for the first time, in their 60s and 70s. A lack of affordable and subsidized housing is the issue.

The numbers may be higher than known as some people may be staying with friends and family.

Betty Hanson, 73, found her Social Security wasn’t enough to even pay rent in the Detroit Lakes area. She says apartments she looked at ranged from $800 to $1,000. “If you only make $800 and some dollars, then that’s impossible,” she said. For several years, Hanson lived out of a suitcase, traveling between Minnesota and Arizona, staying with her adult children or renting a room from people looking to earn a little extra cash. She eventually got into affordable senior housing.

A recent study Maxfield Research prepared for a consortium of housing organizations projected that as soon as 2020 there will be a need for 23,000 new affordable housing units for seniors in Minnesota.

For many low-income seniors affordable housing would be $400 a month. Rents are two or three times higher in many parts of Minnesota.

Current prospects for government help with that gap financing are slim. A proposal at the Minnesota Legislature to allow bonding for affordable senior housing projects did not get a hearing this session. In Washington, the Trump administration is proposing significant cuts to grants that help fund affordable housing programs. Source: Minnesota Public Radio


Programs criticized in audit

A review by Minnesota’s legislative auditor has found that some of Minnesota’s social services programs do a poor job of ensuring benefits don’t go to ineligible people. That could have political implications as lawmakers shape the state’s budget, at a time when members of the House and Senate have called for deep cuts in the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) budget. One big area Republicans have identified for potential savings in the past is tightening the state’s eligibility requirements for public programs.

The audit released in March reviewed several major federally funded programs aimed at helping Minnesotans with disabilities, as well as low-income and elderly Minnesotans. For these programs, the legislative auditor reviewed state processes, and checked a random sample of cases to identify errors.

The audit identified errors made by county workers in determining whether Minnesotans with disabilities and the elderly were eligible for help under the state’s Medical Assistance or Medicaid program. Four of 40 tested cases were given Medical Assistance benefits they weren’t eligible for because they had too much income or too many assets. The state had a previous review system for catching these mistakes but “discontinued these case reviews in October 2015.” Medical Assistance costs are split between the state and federal governments.

In a response, DHS Commissioner Emily Johnson Piper agreed with the findings and said the department would redouble its efforts to identify efficiencies and improve training for county workers. She also said the department would work to make sure elderly and disabled Medical Assistance cases were reviewed.

“We are encouraged by the progress we’ve made in our internal control environment; this is the fewest findings and recommendations we have had in a single audit since 2001,” Piper said. “However, we are disappointed that the … remaining findings are all prior year issues, which we have been unable to resolve.”

The review also found significant error rates in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which provides cash and other benefits to low-income families with children. This program is directly administered by workers in counties, not by the state. The audit found eight of 24 families it reviewed weren’t eligible for benefits they received. TANF is funded by the federal government, not by state taxpayers. A DHS review identified and correct the mistakes.

The audit did not review the state’s major public health programs because it had been directed not to by the federal Office of Management and Budget, which conducts reviews of its own. Source: Pioneer Press



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