Regional News in Review – December 2018

Former Bethel student sues university A former Bethel University student is suing the Arden Hills university for discrimination, basing his […]

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Former Bethel student sues university

A former Bethel University student is suing the Arden Hills university for discrimination, basing his claims on a widely touted inclusion program. The student’s parents allege the university did not live up to its promise, and state law, in ensuring that their son was treated inclusively in a special program for students with intellectual disabilities.

The student is identified in court documents as A.C. He is an adult with cognitive disabilities who was enrolled in Bethel’s BUILD program for inclusive learning. His parents said that the program isn’t inclusive.

“The law requires that he participate with non-disabled peers and students. He was not allowed to do that,” said attorney Phillip Villaume.

The Bethel BUILD program is marketed as an inclusive two-year certificate program where students learn to “live as independently as possible, maintain meaningful employment and value lifelong learning.”

“But what we were led to believe is very different from what it was,” AC’s father Christopher Luebke said in an interview with KMSP-TV.

The lawsuit alleges Bethel “specifically promised inclusive educational services and associated extracurricular activities that were never performed or not performed as promised.”

AC’s parents filed a complaint with the university. The lawsuit includes letter from Bethel University President Jay Barnes to AC’s parent that stated, “I find that disability discrimination occurred against your son” in access to academic class electives.

“This is a serious, serious discrimination case. It should not have happened. Hopefully it won’t happen again and my clients bringing this lawsuit will hopefully bring some prevention so that it doesn’t happen again to any other students,” Villaume said.

A spokeswoman for Bethel University said the university cannot comment on litigation, but said it’s committed to providing a safe and productive learning environment for all students. (Source: KMSP-TV)


Vision Loss Resources announces site change

Vision Loss Resources, a nonprofit with offices in St. Paul and Minneapolis, has announced that it is selling its Minneapolis building on Lyndale Avenue.

“After lengthy discussion with our board and staff, and listening to comments about our space, we have determined that our current building limits our ability to serve you in the bestway possible,” aid Vison Loss Resources President/CEO Kate Grathwol.

A plan is underway to sell the current Minneapolis building and find a new location that is more accommodating for Vision Loss Resources program participants. A timeline for the building marketing and sale isn’t known and no date for a move has been set.

The sale doesn’t affect the St. Paul location.

“We are committed to making the move to a new space as smooth as possible to ensure minimal disruption to our services. We are excited to continue to learn from you, our staff and our volunteers about your future space needs so that we can continue to serve you in the best way possible,” said Grathwol.

Vision Loss resources has provided services and support to people with vision loss since 1914, when the Minneapolis Society for the Blind was founded. In 1993, that group merged with the St. Paul Society for the Blind and became Vision Loss Resources. The nonprofit offers a wide variety of classes and services in the Twin Cities. (Source: Vision Loss Resources)


Outrage over light sentence

The mother of a man with severe developmental and physical disabilities is outraged the caregiver convicted of assaulting her son won’t see jail time.

On November 30 Zachary Bostelman, 24, of North Mankato, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor fifth-degree assault at the Blue Earth County Justice Center in Mankato. He received a 90-day jail sentence suspended for a year, a $700 fine and is barred from working in a similar caretaker role.

The victim’s mother, Pat Booker of New Ulm, said her family wanted jail time for what she called a “callous disregard” for her son’s welfare.

“It’s a total slap in the face,” she told the Mankato Free Press. “There’s no justice there at all for him.” Her son, Keith, 43, is nonverbal, uses a wheelchair and has contractures in his legs causing pain when touched or moved. He lives at the Autumn Grace assisted-living facility in Mankato, which is where the assault occurred in September 2017.

Witnesses reported Bostelman physically and verbally abused Booker while working there, according to the criminal complaint. Booker’s mother said everyone on the care team would’ve known her son’s legs are painful to the touch and that he needed to be handled with care. A mandatory reporter alerted authorities to the allegations.

The physical nature of the accusations shocked Booker’s family, but his mother said the disparaging comments Bostelman made about her son were equally hurtful. “It was so painful reading that,” she said. “It took me three times before I could get through it because I was crying and angry at him.”

She told Blue Earth County District Judge Krista Jass she wasn’t satisfied with the plea and thought her family’s input wasn’t considered by the County Attorney’s Office. Assistant County Attorney Christopher Rovney disagreed, while saying he understood the Booker family’s frustrations.

Bostelman faced two counts of felony stalking, misdemeanor stalking with intent to injure and misdemeanor criminal abuse by a caregiver on a vulnerable adult charges, along with the assault charge. Rovney said the initial charges were motivated by the need to remove Bostelman from his caregiver role. Rovney also said the prosecution would’ve faced significant challenges in securing guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in a jury trial, the process the victim’s family preferred. One challenge cited is that the state took no action against Bostelman after an investigation. (Source: Free Press of Mankato)


Disability-specific housing is funded

Grants totaling $2.97 million have been awarded to 46 counties and three American Indian tribes to help more people with disabilities have housing of their own through a new initiative from the state of Minnesota. Community Living Infrastructure Grants will support initiatives to people with disabilities with housing instability get housing, move out into the community or remain in their own homes.

“Too many people with disabilities are stuck in institutions or group homes, bouncing between friends’ couches and crisis beds, or sleeping in homeless shelters,” said Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) Commissioner Emily Piper. “Minnesota needs to shift away from over-reliance on group homes and other facilities by supporting and helping people to live in their communities.”

The grants, which will be distributed over four years, support people with disabilities by providing a realm of services. There will be outreach to people who are homeless, unstably housed, or who want to relocate from hospitals, treatment centers, corrections or other facilities. Local experts will provide information and resources for individuals who need housing. Support will be provided for counties and tribes to administer and monitor effective housing support programs.

The grants will help people with disabilities know what housing resources are available to them in their area and how to get them. Moving people to more appropriate housing is expected to open beds in high level-of-care facilities for people with greater needs, reducing waiting lists.

Grant recipients are Anoka County, $191,027; Carver County, $118,820; Clay, Becker, Douglas, Grant, Otter Tail, Pope, Stevens, Traverse, Wadena and Wilkin counties, $385,875; Dakota County, $140,088; Hennepin County, $212,842; Marshall, Kittson, Mahnomen, Marshall, Norman, Polk and Red Lake counties, $191,908; Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, $102,720; Minnesota Prairie County Alliance (Dodge, Steele, Waseca counties), $102,580; Olmste County, $150,000; Ramsey County, $214,357; Regional Metro Committee (Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott and Washington counties), $181,904; St. Louis County with the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, $256,175; Scott County, $79,750; Southwestern Minnesota Adult Mental Health Consortium (Big Stone, Chippewa, Cottonwood, Jackson, Kandiyohi, Lac qui Parle, Lincoln, Lyon,McLeod, Meeker, Murray, Nobles, Pipestone, Redwood, Renville, Rock, Swift and Yellow Medicine counties), $100,000; Stearns County, $187,211; Washington County, $185,447 and White Earth Band of Chippewa, $169,296

Funding for the grants was appropriated by the 2017 legislature within the Minnesota Housing Support Act. Additional funding will be awarded through a new competitive grant process next year, for a total of $7.07 million over four years. (Source: Minnesota DHS)


Fatal shooting sparks call for change

The fatal police shooting of a possibly suicidal man on Minneapolis’ North Side in November has renewed calls for better responses to mental health crises. City Council Member Phillipe Cunningham is leading the charge after months of quietly pushing for an expansion of the department’s mental health co-responder program, which pairs officers with counselors on calls involving mental health crises.

Cunningham blamed the program’s limited rollout on a lack of funding. it would cost $1 million per year to expand it citywide. The council is working to provide more money for crisis services, and will adopt a budget by year’s end.

He disagrees with the suggestion that north Minneapolis has fewer residents suffering from mental illness than other parts of the city. If anything, he said, North Siders may be more reluctant to call 911 out of fear of police intervention. “You could ask probably any North Sider — especially anyone of color on the North Side — ‘Would you call the police if somebody that you knew was going through a mental health crisis?’ They would say no,” Cunningham said in an interview with the Star Tribune. “I would say no.”

The death of 36-year-old Travis Jordan comes amid a national debate involving when and how police officers use force against the mentally ill. Jordan was shot and killed after someone requested a wellness check on him, and he emerged from his home holding a knife.

Minneapolis has a co-responder program, run with Hennepin County, in the two police precincts that cover south Minneapolis — the Third and the Fifth — which police say account for more than half of the city’s mental health-related calls.

The unit pairs officers with mental health service providers from the county’s Community Outreach for Psychiatric Emergencies program, or COPE, to handle certain calls involving individuals with cognitive disabilities and mental illness. Department officials have announced plans to move the program to the downtown First Precinct on a pilot basis. (Source: Star Tribune)


School construction underway

A public partnership between the city of Montevideo and the Southwest West Central Service Cooperative is making possible a new school to serve area students with special needs.

Construction on the Northstar Educational Learning Center is underway, with expectations that the 22,500-square-foot facility on the east edge of Montevideo will be ready for its first students at the start of the 2019-20 school year.

“This couldn’t have been done without the collaboration,” said Cliff Carmody, executive director of the service cooperative.

The Montevideo Economic Development Agency is the project owner. It is taking on approximately $5.2 million in debt to construct the facility, which it will lease to the service cooperative with a buyout option. For the city, the project represents an economic development initiative. The school will create 30 to possibly 40 new jobs in the community when fully staffed with paraprofessionals and licensed instructors.

For the service cooperative, the new school represents the first of its learning centers that is specifically designed and built for students with special needs. The cooperative operates learning centers in Cosmos, Willmar, Belview, Windom and Pipestone. The sixth site in Montevideo will also help it achieve a goal of offering services within 30 miles of all students in the area served by the cooperative. Carmody said the school is expected to initially serve 25 to 30 students in grades K-12. It will be the first of its centers to also include a preschool component, he added.

The site offers space for expansion if student enrollment grows, which is very possible, according to Carmody. Special needs programs fill very quickly at all of the centers. “Somewhere there is a ceiling, but we haven’t found it yet,” he said.

The learning centers serve students with behavioral, mental health and other learning disabilities. The students will come from area school districts. Smaller districts may have only one or two students in need of the special services provided at the learning centers. The new school will feature smaller classrooms, as well as sensory rooms for students to take time when struggling during the school day. (Source: West Central Tribune)


Activist loses election in recount

A longtime Minnesota disability community activist narrowly lost her bid for a seat on a suburban city council. After the November 6 election, incumbent Maplewood City Council member Marylee Abrams was tied with activist Nikki Villavicencio for an at-large seat on the council. Both candidates received exactly 5,755 votes.

Under state law, if there’s no clear winner after election day, it must be settled “by lot.” How that is done is up to the local unit of government. Maplewood used a coin toss, which Villavicencio won.

But Abrams petitioned for a recount and won. She is a labor and employment law attorney.

Villavicencio is a long-time activist who has arthrogryposis. She’s a fixture at the capitol, working on disability rights issues. She’s currently chairs the Maplewood Parks and Recreation Commission and a member of the city’s parks task force, where she was part of the push for a new 20-year master plan for the suburb. (Source: Minnesota Public Radio, Pioneer Press)


Grants announced for schools

North Education Center, New Hope was the site to announce $4.9 million in mental health grants to intermediate school districts. The funding helps specialized school districts provide mental health services to children, including those who have experienced trauma.

Intermediate school districts provide highly specialized educational programs to students and families, including special education, area learning centers, career tech programs and online learning.

Intermediate school districts give additional support to students whose needs are not being met in a more traditional school setting. Minnesota has four intermediate districts that serve more than 20,000 students annually from member school districts. The two-year grants went to all four districts and one service cooperative, with three to mental health providers who will work with intermediate school districts and two to intermediate school districts who qualify as mental health providers.

The goal of the School Innovation Grant initiative is to improve clinical outcomes for students, helping them return to their home school districts, reversing the disproportionate impact on students of color, and providing support and training for school staff and parents. Teachers partner with mental health staff to provide early childhood special education and mental health programs, and families have access to monthly parent/child/family psychoeducational trainings.

“Many of our students need more support in order to be successful in the classroom,” said Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius. “Partnerships between schools and mental health providers is one great way to connect with more students. We need to support the whole child at school in order for them to reach their full potential, and I am excited to see new partnerships help us reach that goal.”

Supported initiatives include psychotherapy and psychiatric services, substance use disorder recovery services, case management, day treatment, and consultation and coordination. Key strategies include creating a trauma informed learning environment, integrating mental health care, providing culturally responsive services and serving multi-generational mental health and family stability needs.

Grantees are Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, in partnership with Intermediate School District 287, Plymouth, $1,973,612; Northeast Metro 916 Intermediate School District, White Bear Lake, in partnership with Canvas Health and Family Innovations, $1,497,911; Greater Minnesota Family Services, in partnership with Southwest West Central Service Co-op, Marshall, $421,992; Intermediate School District 917, Rosemount, $580,604 and Scott County Mental Health Center, in partnership with SouthWest Metro Intermediate District 288, Shakopee, $425,876. (Source: Minnesota DHS)


Alzheimer’s added to cannabis list

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) announced that it will add Alzheimer’s disease as a new qualifying condition for the state’s medical cannabis program. Under state law, the condition joins several other conditions in August 2019.

“Any policy decisions about cannabis are difficult due to the relative lack  of published scientific evidence,” said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm. “However, there is some evidence for potential benefits of medical cannabis to improve the mood, sleep and behavior of patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.”

As in years past, MDH used a formal petitioning process to solicit public input on potential qualifying conditions. Throughout June and July, Minnesotans submitted petitions to add qualifying conditions. Following this petition period, the process included public comments and a citizens’ review panel. MDH staff also prepared a set of documents summarizing the available research pertaining to the use of medical cannabis for each prospective condition.

Petitioners put forward seven conditions this year: Alzheimer’s disease, hepatitis C, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, opioid use disorder, panic disorder, psoriasis and traumatic brain injury. After reviewing the research summaries and other input, Malcolm approved Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that mainly affects elderly people. It is the most common cause of dementia. Other symptoms include cognitive impairment, delusion, depression and agitation. The MDH research brief cited two available studies, which found that after cannabis use some patients saw improvements in disruptive nighttime behaviors and agitation.

Under current state rules, patients certified to have Alzheimer’s disease will become eligible to enroll in the program on July 1, 2019, and receive medical cannabis from the state’s two medical cannabis manufacturers beginning Aug. 1, 2019. As with the program’s other qualifying conditions, patients will need advance certification from a Minnesota health care provider.

More details on the process are available on the Medical Cannabis website. When the 2014 Minnesota Legislature authorized the creation of a medical cannabis program, the law included a set of nine conditions qualifying a person to receive medical cannabis.

State rules direct the commissioner of health to consider each year whether to add other qualifying conditions and delivery methods. The current list of qualifying conditions includes cancer associated with severe/chronic pain, nausea or severe vomiting, or cachexia or severe wasting; glaucoma; HIV/AIDS; Tourette’s syndrome; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS); seizures including those characteristic of epilepsy; severe and persistent muscle spasms, including those characteristic of multiple sclerosis; inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s disease; terminal illness, with a probable life expectancy of less than one year; intractable pain; post-traumatic stress disorder; autism spectrum disorders and obstructive sleep apnea. (Source: MDH)




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