Regional News in Review – December 2017

Task force looks at abuse Abuses in Minnesota nursing homes will be scrutinized by a state task force. Gov. Mark […]

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Task force looks at abuse

Abuses in Minnesota nursing homes will be scrutinized by a state task force. Gov. Mark Dayton made that announcement after the Star Tribune newspaper published a series of articles about abuse. The articles described physical and sexual abuse of nursing home residents, facilities that repeatedly violation state regulations, and even facilities that retaliate against residents who complain.

“The senior care failures are really appalling,” said Dayton. The task force, to be made up of state agency heads and experts, is directed to assess the situation and come up with solutions. Proposals could be ready in time for the 2018 legislative session, which begins in February.

The Star Tribune series has detailed abuse of residents in senior care centers by other residents and staff — frequently without consequence — while the victims who report the abuse often face retribution. The Minnesota Department of Health, which regulates the industry, investigates a mere three percent of abuse claims, according to a review of public records.

“Some of the acts that have been reported are criminal acts. I’m at a loss to understand why they aren’t reported immediately as criminal acts to law enforcement agencies. Those are the kinds of questions I have,” Dayton said. His goal, he said, is that Minnesotans “be assured that their loved ones are being properly cared for and protected in those situations.”

Dayton also said the industry should step up. “And I also call on the care industry that house these individuals, as well as others with disabilities and infirmities, to step forward and be part of the task force and take responsibility.”
(Source: Star Tribune)


Indoor universal playground eyed

The builders of Madison’s Place in Woodbury, a large universal playground, aren’t done providing fun for children with disabilities. The playground backers are eyeing space at Maplewood Mall for a new indoor, unversal playground.

The playground at the mall has an estimated price tag of $400,000. The mall would donate the needed space. Madison’s Place founder Dana Millington said construction could begin in the fall of 2018. The 6,700-square-foot playground will be named Madison’s Place at Maplewood Mall.

The playground will be in former retail space, near the Kohl’s entrance to the mall, said Millington. To her knowledge, this will be the first indoor all-inclusive playground in the state.

The Woodbury location was completed for $850,000, on a 16,000-square-foot parcel donated by the city. It opened in June 2016.

The name “Madison’s Place” memorializes Millington’s daughter Madison. The little girl died in 2004 at the age of two due to complications of spinal muscular atrophy. To make a donation, visit (Source: Pioneer Press)


Licensing fight imperils rsidents

Residents of a West St. Paul apartment complex, including residents with disabilities, contend that they could be homeless now that their landlord has lost his rental licenses. But neighbors argue that the Charlton Street apartment building is a property property.

The rental license was revoked this fall and rsidents have to be out by July 2018. City officials said they revoked the license — a rare move — because the landlord hasn’t improved conditions. That is despite repeated warnings. They  postponed the revocation from Janaury 1 to July 1 after rssidents and property owner Greg Mailand attended a council meeting.

“Revoking a rental license is not a process we take lightly,” said Jim Hartshorn, West St. Paul’s community development director. “It’s an option that we have for ongoing problem properties [whose owners] refuse to listen to us.” But many tenants say the city’s claims of a chaotic building are unfounded. City officials responded that the landlord is taking advantage of tenants. Local faith leaders and county officials said the city’s actions threaten to make tenants — many low-income or people with disabilities — homeless in a tight housing market that is especially short on affordable housing.

“When I got wind of this situation, my heart just bled,” said Oliver White, a pastor at Clark-Grace United Church of Christ in South St. Paul. “I mean, where will these people go? Where will they get the money?”

Mailand has petitioned the Minnesota Court of Appeals to review the city’s decision to revoke his rental licenses, asserting in court documents that its actions were “unreasonable, arbitrary, capricious and in violation of the City’s City Code and Minnesota law.” (Source: Star Tribune)


Contestant makes history

History was made in November at the Miss Minnesota USA pageant, as Mikayla Holmgren became the first woman with Down syndrome to compete. She didn’t win the title but she was honored with the Miss Minnesota USA Spirit Award and Director’s Award. Holmgreen is 22 and lives in Marine on St. Croix.

“You make people smile every time you talk, cheer, smile and dance,” said Denise Wallace Heitkamp, executive state director, as she read from Mikayla’s nomination letter for the Spirit Award. “You exude the spirit of Miss USA by always being true to yourself and putting others first. You have selflessness, humility and the ability to overcome obstacles with a smile on your face and excitement in your heart.”

“I’m so excited,” Holmgren said. “I can’t believe it!” The contest is part of the Miss Universe Organization. Parents of girls with Down syndrome brought them to watch the pageant and cheer Holmes on. Holmgren said she is proud to be a role mode. The Bethel University student works with Best Buddies International, a nonprofit organization that works to promote one-on-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people
who have intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Sandi and Craig Holmgren said they were proud of their daughter’s accomplishments. “Competing in this has been an incredible experience for her,” Sandi Holmgren said. “She’s just amazing. She goes after what she wants. She said, ‘I want to do this. I’m going to go do this,’ and we said, ‘All right.’ She just goes after it.” (Source: KSTP-TV, Pioneer Press)


Rochester considers new policy

A tenant of an apartment building torn down to make way for a new six-story mixed-use building near downtown has helped spur a poroposed city policy. The tenant, who has physical disabilities, had to find a new apartment to meet her needs before the new structure could be built.

Terry Spaeth, Rochester redevelopment director, told the Rochester City Council that a policy outlining tenant relocation requirements for developments seeking tax-increment financing could have helped save time for the project. He said that would ensure that relocation for low-income residents is place before a developer seeks public assistance such as tax increment financing.

The council debated the policy this fall. Some council members said relocation costs are a private matter between a developer and displaced tenants. Others said that when public financing is sought for a project, it is no longer a private manner. Council President Randy Staver said the proposal has merit but needs further review to make sure it’s not misused by someone on either side of the table. “I want to make sure as we do these things that it has the intended impact we are looking for,” he said.

The city is looking at a $25,000 cap on relocation expenses, which could be waived if a tenant who has special needs requires additional accommodations such as renovations to his or her new home. The relocation costs would be covered by the developer. (Source: Rochester Post-Bulletin)


Woman wins support dog case

Jane Poeschel and her tiny Shih Tzu dog Trudy are working to draw attention to the issue of emotional assistance or support animals. Poeschel adopted her dog in spring 2014 and informed her New Brighton apartment complex management that the puppy was coming. Her lease showed that dogs and cats were welcome at the complex.

That sparked a long and complex legal battle, which culminated in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed last year. “I continually lived with harassment,” said Poeschel, 57. “They were making it an absolute nightmare.” She and Trudy eventually moved out, living in a camper for a time.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office filed a lawsuit in October 2016 alleging that Garden Grove apartments violated the Fair Housing Act by refusing to allow Poeschel to keep Trudy as an emotional assistance dog. The suit stated that she faced repeated bullying from property managers, including attempts to evict her.

Poeschel’s struggle is not unusual, advocates and attorneys say. “The facts of the case are really common,” said Lisa Hollingsworth of Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS), who worked with Poeschel. The  organization sees 50 to 100 cases each year.

Garden Grove, in settling the lawsuit, admitted no liability but did agree to change its policies. Poeschel is going south for the inter and isn’t sure if she will return to Minnesota. “People’s treating doctors recognize how much a companion animal can provide to people who are relatively shut in because of a disability,” Hollingsworth said.


VA health care causes frustration

After Winthrop resident Phil Klenk injured himself with a shovel during yard work, his wife, Lisa, drove him more than an hour to the VA hospital in Minneapolis for urgent care. The Klenks, who are both veterans, hoped for health care closer to their homes.

But Lisa Klenk, the veterans service officer for Sibley County, quickly found the Veterans Choice Program to be so bureaucratic and slow-moving — it took her 2 1/2 months to get a physical therapy appointment near home — that she’s reverted to visiting VA hospitals in Minneapolis and St. Cloud, 75 miles away.

“Even though it’s an hour and 10-minute drive, it’s quicker for me to go there than to go to my local choice program,” she said.

Three years after the Veterans Choice Program began, federal lawmakers are racing to overhaul the troubled multibillion-dollar effort before it runs out of money. That could happen as early as December, following the approval of $2.1 billion in emergency funding in August.

At least a third of the people enrolled in the VA health care system live in rural areas and are more likely to be older and face medical problems that require costlier care.

“It’s pretty hard to find a veteran who’s happy with the way the Choice Program is working,” said Congressman Rick
Nolan, whose sprawling, largely rural northeastern Minnesota district faces the very challenges that the program was
supposed to address. “Just colossal administrative snafus and delays and problems have been associated with (it).”

Nolan said he has a neighbor who tried for two years to get an appointment to be treated for a neck injury that the VA system couldn’t handle in-house. The congressman recently attended a gathering of about 100 veterans in International Falls to talk about a solution. Replacement programs have been proposed but nothing is final.
(Source: Mankato Free Press)




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