Regional News in Review – August 2014

  Unionization efforts continuing Home health care workers in Minnesota are moving ahead with a union election, despite a recent […]

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Unionization efforts continuing

Home health care workers in Minnesota are moving ahead with a union election, despite a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling and a last-minute lawsuit.

Nine home health care workers filed suit to block the union vote, which began August 1. Workers are organizing with the help of the Service Employees International Union. The nine workers trying to block the union filed the lawsuit July 28 against the union and the state of Minnesota. They have backing from the National Right to Work Foundation.

About 26,000 personal care attendants from around the state are affected by the union vote. Union supporters contend representation is needed to fight for better wages, benefits and working conditions. Union foes argue that they don’t need a union negotiating with the state for wages on their behalf. Some argue that a union could do more harm than good.

All of this plays out against a backdrop of national activity. Earlier this summer, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that similar workers in Illinois don’t have to pay any union dues. The 2013 Minnesota Legislature passed a bill that allows a unionization vote by workers who provide care to elderly and disabled people in their homes. More than 9,000 cards delivered to the state Bureau of Mediation Services recently exceeded the 30 percent required to trigger an election.

Minnesota’s union leaders have said people who don’t want to pay dues wouldn’t have to, if the unionization vote wins approval. (Source: Star Tribune, Minnesota Public Radio)



‘Disability Viewpoints’ weighing options

The future home for the award-winning public access television program “Disability Viewpoints” continues to be in question. For months the North Suburban Cable Commission and Comcast have been debated public access fees paid by cable TV subscribers. The cable commission and its production entity, CTV, contend that cuts would make it impossible to provide the level of community access programming currently provided.

CTV could sustain substantial production cuts if the changes in public access fees are approved. Cities that are part of the cable commission are debating the fees. The Shoreview City Council is to vote August 18 as to whether or not to continue to be part of the  commission. Having cities leave the commission impacts the ability to provide programming.

“Disability Viewpoints” could work with CTV to find sponsors to help cover costs of the show. The program could also move from its longtime home at CTV and be produced at another studio. That too would require fundraising.

Earlier this summer the 10 cities that make up the North Suburban Communications Commission voted to preliminarily reject the formal proposal offered by Comcast. The two sides are meeting informally but the issue could wind up before an administrative law judge. (Source: Access Press staff)



New app could guide pedestrians

Walking through construction zones is challenging for Nicole Plan, a recent University of Minnesota graduate who’s visually impaired. When Plan attended school, crossing campus was sometimes confusing, she said, because sidewalks often closed for construction of the Green Line light rail.

University of Minnesota researchers and students are developing a smartphone application to help people who are blind and visually impaired navigate Minneapolis streets safely. The project began in 2010 and is nearly complete, but there are a few steps left until the app could be used at intersections throughout the city, said Chen-Fu Liao, a senior assistance engineer at the University’s Minnesota Traffic Observatory.

To complete the project, the research group still needs to obtain traffic signal information from Minneapolis city officials. The app would provide users with an intersection’s description as they approach and allows them to request walk signals—all from their smartphones.

Another feature of the app will alert users as they near construction zones and instruct them on how to avoid the obstacle. University students have contributed to the app throughout its development process. The Disabled Student Cultural Center provided input on the project. Once it’s completed, the goal is to offer the app to users free of charge. (Source: Minnesota Daily)



Access to meeting draws complaint

A Sartell woman has filed a complaint, after an incident in which she was denied access to a meeting at the St. Cloud Public Library. Kim Pettman wasn’t allowed to attend a Minnesota Council on Nonprofits meeting because there wasn’t accessible seating. Pettman has a chronic disorder called lipoedema. The disorder causes fatty tissue to accumulate and can cause pain and bruising.

Pettman contends that library staff misunderstands the Americans with Disabilities Act and that public seating should be made available for all. At least one of the library meeting rooms has seating that would work for Pettman, but the meeting she wanted to attend was in a different room.

“I do public policy awareness about the Americans with Disabilities Act. I have a disability, and in my struggles in trying to get access to this community, that is how I kind of got involved in this,” Pettman told the St. Cloud Daily Times. “Most people when they see a fat person, they think it’s their fault … but this is not caused by overeating; it’s caused by stem cells that have gone rogue,” said Pettman, who uses a walker.

Library staff isn’t comment because of the complaint and ongoing investigation. (Source: St. Cloud Daily Times)



Facility cited for resident’s death

A resident of a south Minneapolis assisted-living facility suffered a seizure and later died after going for 10 days without a key medication. That was a conclusion of a state investigation that cited Accessible Space’s staff for failing to restock the prescription.

The March 6 death is being blamed for failing “to adequately supervise staff to ensure medications were available,” according to a summary of the Health Department report. The resident took phenobarbital to control seizures and had used the medication for several years before missing his twice-a-day dosage 19 times over a 10-day period. He last took the drug on Feb. 23, the report said. On March 5, he “had a seizure that lasted for 15 minutes” and died the next day in a hospital, the report continued. The resident’s death was caused by respiratory failure. The resident also had multiple sclerosis. He needed assistance with medication because of cognitive difficulties.

Kristy Schutt, director of program services for Accessible Space, said the findings will not be appealed, noting that some staff members have been disciplined and “all the remaining staff properly retrained.” The resident had lived in the facility for many years. Investigators found he also missed three days of Phenobarbital in December and a drug for a urinary tract infection for all of January.

Three licensing orders were issued for the March incident. A follow-up in April found that Accessible Space had made the necessary corrections. (Source: Star Tribune)



Therapy dog program seeks awareness

An incident this summer in Brainerd is raising awareness about therapy dogs. Paul Junker of Brainerd was turned away from a restaurant because of questions about his dog.

The dog came to Junker through the Patriot Assistance Dog program, which is in Detroit Lakes. Program staff members note that there is need to raise awareness about service or assistance dogs and how they help military veterans. There is also a need to educate the public about what kinds of questions can and cannot be asked about service dogs.

For many veterans dogs help ease anxiety issues. Dogs can pull someone out of a public place if conditions create stress. Dogs can also assist during incidents of night terrors.

Patriot Assistance Dogs trainer Dennis Junker told Forum News Services that the Brainerd incident is providing a teaching opportunity. He said that because dogs aren’t required to wear vests or scarves, members of the public may question why a therapy dog is needed.

Junker said he has had to help several veterans who have been denied access to restaurants, hotels, and stores. One veteran and his dog were denied access to a post office. (Source: Forum News Services)



Service vehicles’ lack of access is questioned

Minneapolis’ decision to change its transportation ordinance and allow services like Lyft and UberX to transport passengers has drawn fire from disability advocates.  The Minneapolis City Council approved the changes July 18.

In a letter to City Council members, the Minnesota State Council on Disability and the Minneapolis Advisory Committee on People with Disabilities two disability groups asked for the vote to be delayed. They sought the delay after learning that one cab company was no longer planning to participate in a new wheelchair-accessible incentive program. The groups object to a planned voluntary incentive program to provide accessible cab service.

They also objected to elimination of a requirement that cabs companies provide a set percentage of wheelchair-accessible cabs. The percentage requirement has never been fully complied with. The city instead called for a surcharge to fund a fleet of accessible cabs.

“We recommend that you establish a face to face summit with all the key stakeholders so that an agreement can be negotiated in a public forum,” the groups said in a letter. The state council is asking that people contact them if they are denied access to Minneapolis taxis and ride services.

UberX and Lyft are services that operate with people driving their personal vehicles to transport passengers. Not only have there been concerns about accessibility, there are also worries about lack of driver background checks and lack of insurance. Advocates of the services contend that they provide more transportation choices and should be allowed (Source: Star Tribune)



Improved background checks set

The Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) has started a new system to improve the criminal background study process for employees, employers and the people they care for, Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson announced.

Currently DHS conducts about 1,200 background checks a day or more than 275,000 a year. The new system is expected to reduce that number by two-thirds with more accurate and timely results.

The system is used for background checks on new workers caring for children, people with disabilities and the elderly who receive care at home or in other health care settings. Jesson announced the pilot, which began July 28, with a group of five nursing facilities, during an event at the Carondelet Village care facility in St. Paul.

The pilot will help DHS prepare for a new system using fingerprints to obtain state criminal information and photos to verify identities. Under the new system, employees generally will no longer need to undergo a background check each time they change jobs and employers will be able to more quickly hire employees who have already passed a fingerprint study. DHS will automatically receive updates of criminal information from the Minnesota Court Information System. The 2014 law requires DHS to collect fingerprints and a photograph and implement software changes to improve the accuracy and completeness of background studies. It includes data privacy protections for retaining fingerprints and photographs.

Later this fall the test will expand to other providers with full implementation expected to begin in 2015. The five nursing facilities that will take part in the pilot study are Park River Estates Care Center, Coon Rapids; Eldercare- Fitzgerald Rehabilitation, Eveleth; Eldercare of Minnesota- Little Falls; Good Shepherd Lutheran Home, Sauk Rapids and Benedictine Health Systems-Cerenity Senior Care, White Bear Lake (Source: Minnesota DHS)



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