Regional News in Review – December 2014

Veteran is given new home Veterans who are wounded during service can find it difficult to return to their pre-service […]

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Veteran is given new home

Veterans who are wounded during service can find it difficult to return to their pre-service lives, let alone move onto home ownership. One Twin Cities veteran, who was wounded during combat in Afghanistan, had house keys handed to him, free of charge. The house in Blaine was given to retired Army Specialist Joel Sigfrid during a ceremony at the Blaine Walmart. The free home will allow Sigfrid to focus on school and recovery.

Dr. Pepper Snapple Group and Military Warriors Support Foundation started Project Rebuild, a campaign to assist in rebuilding the lives of our nation’s combat-wounded veterans. Funds generated from the purchases of participating products at Walmart Stores helps the project provide 100 percent mortgage-free homes.

Sigfrid is a native of St. Paul, who recently moved back to the Twin Cities to be closer to family. Sigfrid was wounded by sniper fire in October 2012. He has a Purple Heart sitting on the kitchen counter of his new home. A concussion left him with memory loss, sleeping issues, headaches and on occasion, speech trouble. Figuring out how to move forward has been difficult for him.

“This gives me security. I do get a little bit of disability for what I went through, but with this security now I can start focusing on school. It’s just one step closer to my own rehabilitation,” Sigfrid said. (Source: KSTP)



DARTS loses appeal, faces more woes

DARTS leadership has vowed to continue its mission, after the Dakota County nonprofit lost an appeal to restore its Metro Mobility and Transit Link program contracts through the Metropolitan Council.

The council voted November 5 to reject the appeal and let the cancellation stand. The contracts ended Nov. 9, ending a service agreement that began in 1989. In September, the council terminated two DARTS contracts worth $13.7 million after discovering that records were falsified and that buses were inadequately  maintained.

DARTS issued a statement after the council vote. “We’re very disappointed that the Met Council failed to correct its ‘rush to judgment’ of cancelling our two transit contracts for insufficient cause,” said Greg Kona, president and CEO of DARTS, a nonprofit serving seniors and their families in Dakota County. “We swiftly addressed the Met Council’s concerns yet were unfairly denied due process.” Kona called the decision an injustice to the 4,300 riders and 196 employees who count on DARTS.

“Many DARTS clients will lose the continuity, familiarity and comfort level they’ve established with DARTS’ drivers and with the unique services DARTS has provided over the years,” he explained.

“The last two months have been trying, with unfair accusations and negative publicity damaging DARTS’ reputation in the community,” said Kona. He added that DARTS has been “heartened and humbled” by the strong show of support received from many volunteers, clients, donors and community members.

DARTS will rebuild its transportation division with its own community fleet and personalized ride service. But the nonprofit, which provides a variety of services to elders and people with disabilities, faces more challenges. Last month two former DARTS employees filed suit against the company. They allege that they were pushed out because they raised questions about whether DARTS could comply with legal obligations associated with Metro Mobility and Transit Link bus service.

The suit, filed in Dakota County District Court, alleges that DARTS officials “publicly defamed” the two former employees and violated the state’s whistleblower law. The suit also names DARTS CEO Kona and chief strategy and operations officer Subramanian Krishnan.  (Source: DARTS, Star Tribune)





Food shelf goes to those in need

Catholic Charities St. Cloud has taken its food shelf on the road. The Catholic Charities Mobile Food Shelf is hitting the streets to bring food to help the elderly and people with disabilities in need. The small converted bus is filled with shelved boxes of canned food, produce, coolers and more.

The bus travels to different stops in the St. Cloud area. The agency developed the service after seeing a need among clients at the traditional food shelf on Roosevelt Road, said Kathryn Stolpman, manager of the emergency services program at Catholic Charities. “It started out with really taking a look at whether people who needed food in the St. Cloud area could access the food,” she said. “We started to address it from a transportation problem standpoint.”

Catholic Charities staff and volunteers found that many food shelf clients do have mobility problems because of age or disability. “It kind of became more clear that even if they could get here by city bus, it was hard to carry that much food. It was too difficult for people to maneuver,” she said.

“We came upon the idea, that if we can’t get people to the food, can we get food to the people?” With a grant to purchase and retrofit a small bus and other funding, the mobile food shelf took to the streets this June. Staff and volunteers have been refining the process as they go. Once a month, they go to five or six apartment buildings to deliver food. (Source: St. Cloud Daily Times)




Sex offender program is criticized

Minnesota confines many sex offenders in state programs for far longer than necessary and may be confining some who pose minimal risk to the public. The findings in a report released last month but further press on the legality of Minnesota’s sex offender treatment program. A lawsuit centering on the program’s constitutionality goes to trial in early 2015 in U.S. District Court. The report could become a key point in arguments that the Minnesota Sex Offender Program needs changing.

Court-appointed authorities from several states reviewed the program and released 108-page report. It paints a bleak picture of a program that creates unnecessary obstacles to treatment, sets unrealistic expectations for patient behavior, and leaves both patients and staff beset with feelings of futility. Only two offenders have been discharged in the program’s 20-year history. Some elderly clients told the review team they fear they will die in state custody. “This is going to have a significant impact on the case,” said Dan Gustafson, an attorney representing the plaintiffs. “The program has built-in obstacles that make [release] next to impossible.”

The reviewers made more than 40 recommendations for changes. Some problems are tied to clients’ disabilities. The reviewers found that there are many offenders who aren’t progressing in their treatment, because they have are cognitive disabilities or mental illnesses that make communication with staff difficult. Others are held back for rule violations, such as running down the hallway or wearing unapproved clothing, that have little bearing on their risk for reoffending, the reviewers stated. (Source: Star Tribune)




Medication error is cited

The Minnesota Security Hospital continues to face criticism due to errors by staff. A state investigation found that hospital staff failed to provide prescribed medications for three mentally ill patients. This happened in August and September and is being blamed on a system glitch in which doctors outside of the facilities weren’t notified of expired medication orders.

The errors are the latest in a series of incidents at the hospital in St. Peter. The Security Hospital houses 225 of the state’s most dangerous and mentally ill patients. Earlier this year, one patient was killed. There have also been incidents of use of excessive seclusion and restraint. Inadequate staffing and staff injuries are other problems cited.

The Minnesota Department of Human Services has been working to rectify a number of issues at the hospital. Measures costing more than $10 million have been implemented. these ensures have ranged from more security cameras to stepped-up staff training. While state officials point to the progress they have made, some advocates question whether enough is being done and where the state is capable of properly operating the facility.

“If they can’t fix it, maybe they should bring in someone who can,” Edward Eide, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Minnesota, told the Star Tribune. “All the training and mentoring doesn’t appear to be making a whit’s bit of difference.” (Source: Star Tribune)






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