Regional News in Review – February 2015

Latest legal move is dismissed Attempts to block unionization of Minnesota’s 27,000 home health care workers were thwarted January 26 when U.S. […]

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Latest legal move is dismissed

Attempts to block unionization of Minnesota’s 27,000 home health care workers were thwarted January 26 when U.S. District Judge Michael Davis dismissed a lawsuit. The lawsuit, filed last year by Edina attorney Douglas Seaton, represented six workers who provide home care services to people with disabilities and family members.

Seaton’s clients want to block implementation of a state law that allowed unionization. But Davis ruled that federal law and other federal court decisions don’t preclude the state from negotiating a contract with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a bargaining unit for home health care workers.

SEIU won a representation election last year. Davis’ ruling is consistent with a ruling he issued in October 2014, when a foundation sought a temporary injunction to block the state from seeking a contract with SEIU.

Earlier in January SEIU Healthcare Minnesota reached a tentative agreement on its first contract for 27,000 home care workers. Members will take a ratification vote on that contract soon. If members approve it, the contract will then go before the Minnesota
Legislature for ratification. (Source: Star Tribune)


Company settles disability-based claim

A Madelia woman who sued her Windom-based employer for discrimination has reached a confidential settlement with the business. Brenda Mosser filed the lawsuit in Watonwan District Court one year ago. The case steps from an incident and Minnesota Department of Human Rights claim from 2011. Mosser, who has epilepsy, tripped and fell at work at a Staples Enterprises store in Madelia. Mosser claimed the fall, which resulted in a cut elbow, was caused by her disability. Mosser also claimed the business owner, Brent Staples, asked her manager,

“Why do we have a person with such a messed up life working here?” Mosser claimed the statement showed Staples was discriminating against her because of her disability. She also said that Staples suggested she submit her medical bills to her own insurance and not file a compensation claim.

When the store Mosser worked at was merged with another store, she was let go due to a lack of work. However, two new employees were then hired. Mosser filed a complaint with the state in 2011. An investigation completed in 2013 found there was probable cause for her discrimination claim.

The lawsuit accused Staples of violating the Minnesota Human Rights Act and the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Act. Staples denied all of the allegations. The case was set for trial but was canceled after mediation and a settlement was reached. (Source: Mankato Free Press)


Workers get a chance to achieve

Sometimes it’s difficult for people with developmental disabilities such as autism, cerebral palsy, and Down syndrome to find jobs. But there’s a new start-up company in that’s trying to change that.

Achieve Services launched recently to give people with developmental disabilities paid jobs to offset looming federal and state budget cuts for mental health services.

Daniel O’Connor, who lives with fetal alcohol syndrome, is one of nearly a dozen people who are working in the factory sticking labels on detergent bottles, packaging the products, and filling orders. The company also launched a new line of environmentally-friendly laundry detergent.

Employees said it would be great to make lots of money, but they also believe the process is just as important as the end result.

“One of our goals is to teach people skills that they can take somewhere else and work in the community on jobs as independently as possible,” Tom Weaver, CEO of Achieve Services, said.

And the product is already a hit. One company bought 80 bottles of the detergent, with more orders being filled online.

“It’s how to get charity groups, humanitarian groups, social service groups, to really become more and more self-sustaining, rather than always relying on government funds,” said Mary Tjosvold, a customer who bought detergent. When the weather gets warmer, the employees plan on taking their product to local farmer’s markets where they can meet customers. Learn more at (Source: KMSP-TV)


County officials eye costs, time

A state-mandated reassessment of everyone receiving disability services will be a continuing challenge for Blue Earth County social workers. County officials raising concerns with the MnCHOICES assessment were pleased to learn the county and other state counties will be reimbursed for costs. But staff time spent on the service remains a worry.

The MnCHOICES assessment is meant to be a more comprehensive evaluation of a person’s situation and specific long-term care needs. It replaces four separate assessments previously done. But the evaluation is a time-consuming one, Blue Earth County Human Services Director Phil Claussen told the Blue Earth County Board in January. Since summer 2014 new clients have had the assessment. It took an average of 7.5 hours per client to complete.

“That’s the thing that’s really hit us hard,” Claussen said of the length of the assessment. County officials were told that the time per assessment has dropped as county staff has learned the process. In August, average time was 10.5 hours per client, a number that dropped to six hours by December. Claussen said he is hoping to see continued improvement.

Starting in April, county staff must begin the reassessment — using the more comprehensive MnCHOICES process — of existing clients. That’s a particular burden in Blue Earth County. Mankato has traditionally been a hub for providing housing, employment and services to people with developmental disabilities, said County Administrator Bob Meyer.

“We’ve historically been a community with a lot of disability supports,” said Meyer, mentioning organizations such as MRCI and the Harry Meyering Center. “So people have come to our community because of that.” With some costs, the home county of someone who moved to Mankato remains responsible for making payments for services provided. But the reassessments, under state rules, must be done by the county where the client is living. (Source: Mankato Free Press)


School district may screen for depression

Students in the Anoka-Hennepin School District already undergo health screenings for blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure and body mass index. Next school year, students might get an additional piece of information from the Anoka-Hennepin high schools’ unique health screening program: assessments of their depression risks. A confidential mental-health and substance-abuse questionnaire may be added to district high schools’ annual screening. It’s a reflection of growing attention to anxiety and stress among the nation’s teenagers.

“We’re trying to [screen] for the holistic needs of the individual students which we know play into health and academic performance,” said Dan Edelstein, a director of an organization called the Northwest Alliance, which is leading the screening partnership. The added screening would require school board approval. The district is using a state grant and its partnership with the Northwest Alliance and Allina Health to do screenings.

In-school medical screening at Anoka-Hennepin schools started 19 years ago, Health-class teachers wanted to give students more than just a theoretical understanding of measures such as body mass index. When school officials saw a rising number of students with health problems, they began following up with families to offer support.

Organizers of the project have good reason to turn their attention to student mental health. The 2013 Minnesota Student Survey showed that 44 percent of female 11th-graders in Anoka County had experienced feelings of hopelessness in the last year and that 16 percent had at least thought about suicide. The district expanded student mental health services in 2012 as part of its consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice to settle claims of sex-based harassment. (Source: Star Tribune)


Man still missing from group home

Marc Welzant walked away from his group home near Brainerd more than three months ago. No trace of him has been found. Family members and friends have searched, waited and wondered about the 47-year-old man, who is considered a vulnerable adult.

Family members have announced a $10,000 reward for information leading to his return, or the discovery of what happened to him. Marc’s brother David Welzant lives in the Twin Cities. He and his wife regularly drive up to Brainerd to search on their own, as do other family members and friends. A number of organized searches have also been held.

David Welzant says tips steadily streamed in to Brainerd police immediately after his brother’s disappearance in late October but have since slowed to a trickle. The family is hoping a financial incentive will get people talking, and lead to the tip that will reveal the missing man’s fate.

A witness believes she last saw Marc Welzant walking near Kiwanis Park in Brainerd the afternoon of October 26. The staff at his group home had reported him missing hours earlier, but waited to report his absence as he had wandered off before. He has Prader Willi Syndrome, and is developmentally disabled. He is described as 5 feet 2 inches tall and around 240 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes. He was last seen wearing dark sweat pants, a dark green jacket and tennis shoes.

David Welzant says the family has accepted that Marc may not be found alive at this point. “It’s been tough on the family not having any closure,” he told KARE 11. He says the family has been active keeping Marc’s case in the social media conversation, and adds that billboards will start going up in the next few days near Brainerd. Anyone with information on Marc Charles Welzant’s disappearance is asked to call Brainerd Police at 218-829-2805. (Source: KARE 11 News)


Autism first responder training OK’d for peace officers

The Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training has approved the Autism Society of Minnesota (AuSM) emergency preparedness training classes for Continuing Education Credit for peace officers.

“With a diagnosis rate of one in 68, autism is the fastest growing disability in our state. Everyone knows someone who is touched by autism,” said Dawn Brasch, AuSM education and training specialist. “Educating peace officers about autism not only ensures the safety of individuals with autism, but also the safety of officers and the community as a whole.”

AuSM developed its autism emergency preparedness training to instruct first responders, including peace officers, on how to interact with and accommodate individuals with autism spectrum disorders. Due to impaired social skills, individuals may fail to respond to their names, often avoid eye contact with people, and may have difficulty interpreting what others are thinking or feeling because they don’t understand social cues. The stress and anxiety of an emergency situation may make communication even more difficult for individuals with autism.

AuSM’s scenario-focused training includes understanding, planning and teaching steps to effectively handle emergency situations. Participants receive training and supporting educational materials.

Multiple first responders and other public safety professionals have participated in AuSM’s emergency preparedness training including Hennepin Emergency Medical Services (EMS); White Bear Lake, Minneapolis and St. Paul Fire Departments; Woodbury, Maplewood, Minneapolis and St. Paul Police Departments; and the Metropolitan Airport Commission Tactical Negotiating Officers. One AuSM emergency preparedness training participant noted, “The training was so helpful to me for my job. It’s easy sometimes to judge people when we don’t really know what’s going on; this will help me ask a few more questions and think there might be more to the story.” (Source: AuSM)


  • Wash your hands! Hands that look can still have icky germs!
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You are not alone. Minnesota Autism Resource Portal.