Regional News in Review – August 2015

Regions tries motorized exoskeleton Patients at Regions Hospital in St. Paul have been trying out a new motorized exoskeleton that lets […]

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Regions tries motorized exoskeleton

Patients at Regions Hospital in St. Paul have been trying out a new motorized exoskeleton that lets them stand upright and, with no small effort, walk. One of those patients is Evans Bille, who fell a year ago when a deck railing gave away. Bille and a few other paraplegic patients are trying out ReWalk, a device made by a Massachusetts company. It was approved last summer by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the only one of its kind cleared for use in the home or in public.

“That feeling of all of a sudden being six feet tall again,” Bille said, “is surreal.” The ReWalk resembles a pair of robotic legs. Motors strap to the outside of the patient’s thighs and calves, with a battery pack and a computer in the back. It’s controlled by a wristwatch. The motors move the legs as the patient uses crutches to balance.

The device was invented by Amit Goffer, an Israeli man who is quadriplegic. The device is rare. Its manufacturer is currently looking for hospital to partner with and run clinics to give patients a look at it. Regions was the first Minnesota hospital to try out the ReWalk. Angelique Lele, the reigning Ms. Wheelchair Minnesota, also tried the device. When she stood up for the first time, she issued an audible “whoa.”

Dr. Steven Jackson, a spinal-cord specialist at Regions, said the device offers a handful of health benefits. It builds bone strength, which atrophies when limbs don’t bear weight. It’s a form of aerobic exercise. It alleviates sitting sores and cuts down on intestinal and bowel issues that crop up in patients who can’t stand. But its $70,000 cost isn’t covered by insurers. (Source: Pioneer Press)


Camera catch elder abuse

A New Hope nursing home has fired two nursing assistants and suspended nine other works, after abuse of residents was captured on hidden cameras. Family members used the cameras at St. Therese of New Hope to discover the abuse. Use of the cameras is becoming more common nationwide although their use has sparked controversy.

The families set up the cameras after noticing bruises and cuts on their loved ones. They gave the videos to New Hope Police Department. The videos were taken over a period of several weeks. New Hope City Attorney Steven Sondrall, who viewed the videos, said that “Inappropriate conduct definitely occurred.” The City of New Hope is awaiting results of a state investigation before filing charges.

St. Therese administration contact families of residents to inform them of the incidents. This marks the second time in a year that one of the four St. Therese facilities has been investigated due to allegations of physical abuse. Last year the Minnesota Department of health investigated a Brooklyn Park nursing home after a staff member reportedly slapped a resident.

News accounts indicate that at least one family has moved a relative out of the New Hope facility, in light of the abuse allegations. (Source: Star Tribune)


NextDoor eyed as housing option

Jesse Lammi of White Bear Lake recalls the day four years ago when his 92-year-old grandfather fell off of a ladder while cleaning gutters. The injury forced him to recuperate in a nursing home away from his family. Lammi has developed NextDoor housing units as a response, so that people with disabilities can live near family. The units are accessible and cost $50,000.

“The whole purpose is to keep people out of institutions,” said Lammi. The dwelling units come with a jack-up system that raises the house for highway travel, and then lowers it for placement.

Lammi and lifelong friend Jon Louiselle developed the units with a $342,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Human Services. The grant was part of a larger state pool of $5.3 million to develop ways to allow senior citizens to remain in their homes. Lammi and Louiselle, who hope to begin manufacturing the NextDoor units this fall, already are renting out their first unit for about $1,000 a month. They have received many queries about the housing, although Lammi cautions those interested that they need to check into their
community’s zoning regulations before moving ahead.

The unit’s 240-square-foot cottage is mounted on wheels. The shingled roof is peaked, and the seven windows make it look open and inviting. A bump-up roof on one end accommodates a loft inside. It can be hauled by most pickup trucks. The house’s wheels are hidden when it is lowered. The house is designed to be accessible with a small ramp. Inside, all furniture and fixtures can be used by people in wheelchairs.

The homes can be hooked up to electricity and water, and have their own small septic tanks. (Source: Associated Press)


Project Lifesaver is questioned

Questions are being raised about a tracking system that’s supposed to help find vulnerable people who’ve gone missing. Project Lifesaver is used as a way of tracking the whereabouts of people with disabilities, but some families who use the technology are concerned about how their calls for help are being answered.

In the Project Lifesaver program, families pay a monthly fee for a loved one to wear a bracelet with a radio transmitter. It helps emergency responders get a fix on someone’s location who has left their home. Families appreciate the system but worry that there is a communications bottleneck. Families recently shared their concerns with KMSP TV, saying they worry about time delays in response. Another concern is that public safety dispatchers don’t seem to have information that should be readily available, such as the person’s description. Ramsey County’s dispatch center was cited by some people as having slow response times due to confusion. On three occasions this year, searchers who have tracking equipment were not alerted to respond to a Project Lifesaver call. Each person was found safe and county officials believe they handled calls in a proper manner. But parents are pushing for the county to keep information about each Project Lifesaver client in its computer system.

Every second can count in a search. The radio signal from the Project Lifesaver tracking bracelet only carries for about a mile. It’s important to get to the missing person’s last known location as fast as possible before they wander out of range. (Source: KMSP TV)



Uncertain future for Kirkbride

Fergus Falls city officials are deciding this month what to do with the former Regional Treatment Center, known locally as the Kirkbride. In July city officials cut ties with developer Historic Properties LLC. The city and developer had discussed property redevelopment for three years, but too many missed deadlines raised red flags.

The Georgia-based developments had proposed a $41 million redevelopment for the four-story, 500,000- square-foot complex. The facility housed 1,700 people at its peak, making it the largest mental health complex in the state. The company planned to rehab the century-old structure in phases, the first one costing $21 million, yet the final point of contention centered on $350,000.

“The sad thing is that the city has put a lot of time and resources into the current developer, and the developer has put a lot of time and resources into the project, too,” Fergus Falls Council Member Justin Arneson said Tuesday.

The developers wanted the money but front but later offered to accept it later. But City Council members decided enough was enough. The City Council will hold a community meeting in August to discuss ideas, and then decide how to market the property and seek another developer.

The hospital was closed in phases between 2005 and 2009, with the state officially handing over the keys for the building to Fergus Falls in 2007. The state set aside $4 million for the city to use to either renovate or demolish the building. The funds will expire in 2016. (Source: Star Tribune)



Counties struggle with inmates

At least three Minnesota county sheriffs have been told by the state Department of Human Services (DHS) in recent weeks that they would have to hang on to their mentally ill committed inmates because the state had inadequate or unavailable treatment beds. That is a violation of a law that requires inmates to get treatment within 48 hours of a judge-issued order.

Now Hennepin County and the state sheriffs’ association are considering legal options to force state officials to explain in court why they can’t find beds for often violent inmates who could pose a risk to themselves or others without proper treatment and medical supervision.

“We are doing the best we can to get patients into beds as quickly as we can,” said DHS Commissioner Lucinda Jesson. “But only when it’s safe for inmates and other patients. Even if it means breaking the 48-hour rule, I have to think about patient and staff safety.”

Jim Franklin, executive director of the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association, said: “The DHS commissioner and that leaves us with an interesting dilemma. Do we hold inmates illegally in jail, or is the commissioner failing in her public duty and violating a judge’s order? The victim in all this is the person with mental illness sitting in jail.”

State officials have been warning since 2013 that they were running out of space to house mentally ill inmates and had concerns over safety and staffing. In late April, Jesson took the rare step of informing state sheriffs they would start limiting admissions of jail inmates to Anoka-Metro Regional Treatment Center, the state’s second-largest psychiatric hospital.

Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek said he plans to pursue a legal strategy to resolve why the DHS can violate the 48-hour rule, which became law in July 2013. He said the county could sue the agency or seek an order requiring a DHS representative to explain to a judge that they can’t fulfill the law. (Source: Star Tribune)



Attorney is under investigation

Attorney Paul Hansmeier, who has filed lawsuits against at least 70 businesses in state and federal court since 2013 on accessibility issues, is under scrutiny by the Minnesota Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board.

Hansmeier has accused business owners of not complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or the Minnesota Human Rights Act. He represents a group called the Disability Support Alliance. The nonprofit group has five members and no office. But it has filed dozens of lawsuits in the last year, targeting businesses all over the state. Some have fought the charges while others have settled out of court.

Accessibility experts and attorneys for businesses question the intent of the lawsuits, which have forced a few small businesses to consider shutting their doors. Some contend the lawsuits are supports to bring quick monetary settlements rather than lasting solutions. The Minnesota State Council on Disability and other advocates have worked to help businesses come into compliance in the wake of the lawsuits.

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce is working with state lawmakers and legal experts to help businesses comply with state and federal laws without facing huge litigation costs. “The rapid increase of ADA lawsuits targeting a number of small Minnesota businesses is a serious concern,” Chamber Executive Director Ben Garber said. (Source: KTSP-TV)

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