Regional News in Review – August 2010

Boy recovering after hit-and-run A five-year-old St. Paul boy, who was struck and seriously injured by a hit-and-run driver July […]

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Boy recovering after hit-and-run

A five-year-old St. Paul boy, who was struck and seriously injured by a hit-and-run driver July 8, is recovering and the driver is facing criminal charges. Godswill Udoh was struck and injured while in a crosswalk at Marion and Thomas. The little boy is autistic and lives with his family near the intersection. He had climbed out a window and left the home without anyone noticing. He may have been going to a nearby recreation center. Udoh was hospitalized after the accident but is expected to make a full recovery.

After the accident his family made a public plea for the hit-and-run driver to be caught.

The driver was caught thanks to alert staff at the Ace Auto Parts store nearby on Rice Street. The day after the accident two young men came in seeking a replacement fender and auto parts. Their vehicle matched the description of the one that struck Udoh. Employees copied down the vehicle license number and the seventeen-year-old driver was located. He told police he was distracted while driving. Charges are pending.[Source: Pioneer Press]


Changes to GAMC still problematic

Changes to the General Assistance Medical Care (GAMC) program continue to cause problems for clients with disabilities and low-income clients, according to a recent Star Tribune article. The newspaper described the plight of Maple Grove resident Eric Halstensen, who is wondering if he has a brain tumor. The 34-year-old told a reporter, “I could die in my sleep tonight and not even wake up. I think about it all the time.”

Halstensen had no health problems until April. But he also is unemployed and has no health insurance. After a fall at a northern Minnesota golf course, doctors found and removed a large tumor on his spinal cord and diagnosed him with a rare form of cancer. Facing more than $50,000 in medical bills, Halstensen quickly signed up for General Assistance Medical Care (GAMC), a state program that provides coverage to about 34,000 poor adults without children. But changes to GAMC, which went into effect June 1, mean he cannot get a scan because the treatment is no longer covered.

But his troubles weren’t over. Citing rules that went into effect on June 1, local health care workers told him he couldn’t get the scans that might save his life because that kind of care was no longer covered by the state program. Health care advocates and state lawmakers said this is an example of the problems caused by program changes. “We are seeing real barriers to access and real dilemmas for providers,” said state Rep. Erin Murphy, a St. Paul DFLer who led negotiations on the program changes. “I’m worried there will be life and death consequences as a result of the solution we were able to muster.”

Since June 1, the state Department of Human Services has received 180 complaints from GAMC clients, with about 25 involving difficulty or delay in getting specialty care, according to state officials.  [Source: Star Tribune]


QuikTrip claims are resolved

The Justice Department announced in July that a comprehensive settlement under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with QuikTrip Corporation, a private company that owns and operates more than 550 gas stations, convenience stores, travel centers, and truck stops in the Midwest, South and Southwestern United States. Under the consent decree, which was filed along with a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska, QuikTrip will create a $1.5 million compensatory damages fund for individuals who were victims of discrimination based on disability, as well as take various steps to make its stores accessible.

The Justice Department initially opened the investigation in response to complaints about inaccessible parking by two individuals with disabilities in the Omaha, Neb., area. The lawsuit filed by the Justice Department alleges that the investigation revealed a nationwide pattern and practice of discrimination on the basis of disability. QuikTrip Corporation worked with the Justice Department to amicably resolve the matter without active litigation.

“On July 26, 2010, we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the ADA, a landmark civil rights law that ensures equal access and equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities. Ensuring full and equal access to all businesses open to the public is a top priority, and the Justice Department is committed to vigorous enforcement of the ADA to ensure equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.

“Convenience stores and gas stations are a critical part of everyday life in America, and these facilities must afford equal access to individuals with disabilities,” said Assistant Attorney General Perez.  “QuikTrip has worked cooperatively with the department so we could resolve this case without active litigation and has affirmed its commitment to serving individuals with disabilities by taking the necessary actions to achieve ADA compliance at all of its stores.”  [Source: U.S. Department of Justice]


Report released of LGBT seniors

PFund, the only Minnesota-based foundation dedicated exclusively to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality, has released a first-of-its-kind report on LGBT seniors issues in Minnesota, “Equality as we Age: a Report on LGBT Seniors in Minnesota.” The report captures the voices and policy recommendations of a wide- ranging, multi-ethnic group of LGBT and mainstream community and nonprofit leaders. These leaders participated in a PFund-sponsored community forum and in-depth interviews on LGBT seniors’ issues earlier this year. The report provides an overview of common challenges Minnesota’s LGBT senior community members face and recommends changes needed to facilitate improved health and wellness, visibility, social interaction and services.

“Our hope is that this report will inform policymakers and senior services providers on the concerns of the LGBT communities they serve,” said Alfonso Wenker, director of programs of PFund Foundation. “Additionally, we hope it guides future investments and action from community, business and philanthropic leaders to examine and advocate policies that ensure all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have equal access to, safety and security at senior serving agencies, equal rights and social interaction.”

The report includes a number of policy recommendations, focused on strategies focused on addressing issues related to the availability and accessibility of culturally appropriate care: policy initiatives that focus on community well-being and increased visibility and social engagement, and legal rights that increase access to benefits and financial resources.  The full report and recommendations can be found at  [Source: PFund]


Manager accused of theft

A manager at two Elk River care facilities forged dozens of checks for thousands of dollars last year using the accounts of several residents with cognitive disabilities, according to police and state health officials. The manager was fired and the facilities have overhauled their audit procedures.

The 11 residents at MacGregor Place and Lavine Place, both owned by Opportunity Partners of Minnetonka, had a combined $9,000 stolen during the second half of 2009, the investigators determined. Michelle Moreland, 45, of Big Lake has been charged with felony financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult, said Police Chief Jeff Beahen. Moreland is accused of forging about 50 checks, the chief said. State Health Department reports say Moreland was fired after confessing to police in March, though they do not identify her by name.

 The unauthorized checks ranged from $100 to $500, according to the criminal complaint filed in May. Moreland told police she would take the cash from forged checks and obtain money orders to pay her bills, the complaint added.

In a statement, Opportunity Partners pointed out that the thefts were detected by its own “internal auditing procedures” and that all residents have been reimbursed. Opportunity Partners provides training, employment and services to about 1,500 people in the Twin Cities area with developmental disabilities, brain injury, autism and other conditions. Changes have been made to prevent such a problem in the future and a state review July 1 found the homes to be in compliance. Moreland’s next court appearance is scheduled for Aug. 12.  [Source: Star Tribune]


Deafblind students are studied

Attending college is not only about academics, but also about new experiences and gaining self-reliance. When students are deafblind, they may face additional complications. For a successful college experience, both students with disabilities and their instructors must make more adjustments. An article in AER Journal: Research and Practice in Visual Impairment and Blindness reports the experiences of 11 deafblind students at a technical college in the United States.

Most of the study participants have Usher syndrome, which causes varying degrees of hearing and vision loss because of retinitis pigmentosa. Four students were affected prior to entering high school, three while in high school, and two after entering college, putting them at different stages in their acceptance of and adaptation to their disabilities.

The study provides insight into the adjustments these students face in their daily lives, as well as into the academic supports offered by the college and those that are still needed. The students were interviewed using open-ended questions, allowing them to relate their experiences in detail.

The authors share several students’ personal experiences: One student, determined to live independently despite his mother’s reservations, expressed the need to find different ways to complete common tasks. Another told of the additional concentration and energy required to remain on a rowing team as her vision deteriorated. She eventually decided to leave the team despite her coach’s encouragement to stay.

The full text of the article, “College Students Who Are Deafblind: Perceptions of Adjustment and Academic Supports,” is available at:   [Source: AER Journal]

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