Regional News In Review - January 2010

Grant aids Duluth agency

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development’s Minnesota Job Skills Partnership Program (MJSP) has announced a $38,000 grant to support lean training for 67 employees of Residential Services of Northeast Minnesota. The one-year training collaboration includes MJSP, Residential Services of Northeast Minnesota and Lake Superior College. Residential Services is a not-for-profit organization serving adults and children with developmental and physical disabilities, mental illness and brain injuries in facilities in Duluth, St. Louis County and seven other northeastern Minnesota counties.

Lean training in the health care environment focuses on eliminating waste and identifies steps that add value to the entire health care delivery process. Lake Superior College will collaborate with Residential Services to develop a Lean Residential Care Training Program for supervisors and managers. Courses will include principles of Continuous Improvement, Value Stream Mapping, Workplace Organization and Adapting to Change.

“Residential Services is seeing increased demand for its services in the face of regulatory changes and staff turnover, and experiencing pressure to maintain high quality with limited resources,” said DEED Commissioner and MJSP Board Chair Dan McElroy. “Lake Superior College’s lean curriculum will add value to staff, clients and residential care providers in the Duluth area.” [Source: State of Minnesota]

 

Former director pleads guilty

The former director of a Wisconsin camp where a mentally disabled woman died last year after being given the wrong medication has pleaded guilty to a charge in the case. Marjorie Hjelseth, 68, of Roseville, reached a plea agreement with prosecutors in Burnett County, Wis., in December, pleading guilty to negligently subjecting an individual at risk to abuse likely to cause great bodily harm — a felony.

In exchange for her plea, a charge of second-degree reckless homicide was dismissed, said Burnett County District Attorney William Norine. A sentencing hearing for Hjelseth is scheduled for Jan. 20.

“She’s glad to have started on the path of putting this behind her,” said Hjelseth’s attorney, Kevin Short. “It is hard to imagine anyone more remorseful about what happened.”

Hjelseth was director of Trade Lake Camp in Grantsburg, Wis., in July 2008, when Shirley Meade, 49, of St. Paul Park, was given another camper’s medication. After it was realized the wrong drugs had been administered, Hjelseth rejected the advice that medical attention be sought, and Meade died hours later, the criminal complaint states.

Hjelseth, who had provided camping services to the mentally disabled for four decades, had known Meade from previous summer camps and was “devastated by her death,” Short said in a statement.

Hjelseth was reported to have been afraid that the camp would be shut down if Meade were taken to a hospital. Weeks earlier, Keith Kennedy, an autistic man from Shoreview, wandered away from the camp and was lost for a week. He was later found alive. But a state inspection of the camp after that incident found a handful of minor violations, including problems with the filing of medication records. The camp’s license was not revoked, and the proper paperwork was filed the next day. [Source: Pioneer Press]

 

Metro Mobility unveils new buses

Metro Mobility’s first hybrid electric vehicles are now on the road. The 15 new buses, purchased with federal stimulus dollars, replace 15 high-mileage diesel vehicles in the existing fleet. Metro Mobility is a public transportation service for people with disabilities and is operated by the Metropolitan Council. The buses are equipped with wheelchair lifts and other safety features and cost $110,000 each. The funds to purchase the buses came from $70.6 million appropriated to the Council earlier this year by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) for metro-area transit projects. The bulk of the stimulus dollars for transit were used to purchase 90 buses for the Metro Transit fleet, 27 small buses for dial-a-ride service, and help reduce a projected transit shortfall.

“The Council fared very well under the stimulus program,” said Chair Peter Bell. “We not only secured new vehicles under this program, but vehicles that are more fuel efficient. That’s very much a priority for this Council.” Metro Mobility officials say they expect the new hybrid buses to improve fuel economy by nearly 30% and produce significantly fewer carbon emissions. In addition to the improved fuel economy, the hybrid technology should reduce wear on other major vehicle components and extend the life of the vehicles by 25%.

Customers will easily be able to spot the new buses, which sport the service’s new striping and logo. The new graphics are more integrated with Metro Transit’s to better reflect the region’s family of transit services.

In addition to the initial appropriation from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Council and Metro Mobility applied for and received another $1.1 million in competitive stimulus monies that will be used to purchase an additional 10 hybrid electric buses for the Metro Mobility fleet.  [Source: Metropolitan Council]

 

Planned steps not accessible

St. Paul’s quest to rebuild a historic staircase from the city’s West Side bluffs to Wabasha Street has been blocked by the project’s lack of an elevator.

The 93-year-old steps were known historically as the black steps and later, the green steps. City officials and community members were confident they had a lock on federal stimulus funding and could erect a new 200-step tower in spring. Folks could get back to walking downtown or to work their lungs and legs for exercise; 350 people used to use the stairs daily. But an official with the Federal Highway Administration said if there are going to be new stairs, there needs to be an elevator, because not everybody can walk the steps. “If it isn’t accessible to everybody, then it is a violation of civil rights,” Christopher Douwes, trails and enhancements program manager, wrote in an e-mail. Even if federal funds aren’t used, an elevator is needed, he added.

Mayor Chris Coleman’s Advisory Committee on People with Disabilities signed off on the project. The Minnesota Department of Transportation offered its support.”It’s incredibly vast bureaucratic overkill,” said Council Member Dave Thune, whose ward includes the West Side. “It’s really a disappointment to the neighbors who’ve worked on it.”

City officials and a community group worked over a yearlong period to find a new design after the 93-year-old stair tower was demolished last year after being damaged when a boulder loosened by a storm slammed into it. The challenge to rebuilding was finding the $2 million for construction. When the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act came along, city engineers jumped at the opportunity to apply. When the elevator problem came up, the city resubmitted its application with some modifications, such as putting signs on a sidewalk that leads up to the bluff and adding handicapped parking spots at the top and bottom. A viewing deck at the top of the bluff would be wheelchair-accessible, and rest areas would be built on the stair landings.

City Engineer John Maczko acknowledged that people who use wheelchairs wouldn’t be able to use the stairs. “If we didn’t believe that we addressed all the access issues, we wouldn’t have put this forward,” he said. “It’s not always possible to accommodate all needs.” [Source: Star Tribune]

 

Elder abuse case continuing

In an ongoing case that shocked the community, 19-year-old Ashton Larson has pleaded not guilty in Freeborn County District Court to all counts against her related to alleged elder abuse at Good Samaritan Society of Albert Lea. The plea was entered Dec. 17. Her case will be scheduled for a pre-trail and jury trial.

The jury trial itself is expected to last about six days, Freeborn County Attorney Craig Nelson and Ashton Larson’s lawyer, Evan Larson, said. No trial date has been announced yet.

Nelson said there has obviously been considerable media coverage in the case, but he does not think he and the defense are incapable of picking a jury in Freeborn County.

Evan Larson said he and his client have not made a decision about whether to ask for a change of venue.

Ashton Larson faces two counts of fifth-degree assault, five counts of criminal abuse of a vulnerable adult, two counts of disorderly conduct of a vulnerable adult and one count of mandatory failure to report stemming from alleged incidents at the nursing home in Albert Lea from January through May 2008.

Charges in the case came in December 2008 after an investigation into the allegations of abuse by local and Minnesota Department of Health officials; however, details of the allegations surfaced August 2008 after the release of the Department of Health’s report.

The report concluded four teenagers were involved in verbal, sexual and emotional abuse of 15 residents at the nursing home. The residents suffered from mental degradation conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Co-defendant Brianna Broitzman, who faces similar charges, also pleaded not guilty to all of her charges in August. Her jury trial has been scheduled for April 2010.

The plea comes about a month after Freeborn County District Court Judge Steve Schwab issued a written order denying the motion made by Evan Larson to dismiss the criminal complaint about his client for lack of probable cause. [Source: Albert Lea Tribune]

 

Nursing home loses funds

State regulators have cut off Medicare and Medicaid funding for all new patients at a Robbinsdale nursing home after inspectors discovered critical treatment errors, including neglect that culminated in the deaths of two residents.

Robbinsdale Rehab and Care Center must fix its problems by Jan. 7 or regulators will extend the funding ban to all patients, a move which has forced other nursing home operations out of business. Six facilities in Minnesota were hit with temporary funding restrictions in the last year. “This is a very serious situation,” said Darcy Miner, director of the compliance monitoring division at the state Department of Health.

Amy Wiffler, the home’s acting administrators aid that she believes she has addressed the government’s concerns. “Our utmost concern is the care and safety of our residents,” said Wiffler, who is also regional operations director for Extendicare, which owns the 123-bed facility.

Inspectors have visited the facility three times since a July survey turned up 29 deficiencies, including failing to respond to signs of distress in two residents who later died. It has been fined $3,000 and denied federal reimbursement for new patients since Oct. 7. Regulators have also sought federal approval for imposing an additional $24,300 in fines for six days in which residents were in immediate jeopardy of being harmed by medication errors. The facility caters to a mostly younger population with mental health and substance abuse problems, as well as traumatic injuries.

In October, the state cited Robbinsdale Rehab for failing to discharge a healthy patient who was being kept in the home against her wishes. Isabelle Jessich, 56, who was the subject of an August report in the Star Tribune, was released Dec. 1 after spending more than a year at the facility.

Jessich was originally hospitalized for treatment related to chronic alcoholism, but her court-appointed guardian wouldn’t let her go home, even after Jessich’s doctor said it was safe for her to leave the facility. Robbinsdale Rehab has far more violations than most Minnesota facilities, which were cited for an average of 10 deficiencies in 2008. Inspectors found 19 violations at Robbinsdale Rehab in 2007, 25 in 2008 and 37 so far in 2009. Some of this year’s violations harmed residents, inspectors concluded. The most serious problems involved two unnamed residents who died after mistakes were made by nursing home employees. [Source: Star Tribune]

 

Sentencing is delayed

The sentencing of the fifth and final defendant in the Justin Hamilton case has been postponed until Jan. 8 in Dakota County District Court. Jonathan M. Diepold, 22, of Northfield was to be sentenced Dec. 22 but the date was postponed.

The kidnapping and beating of Hamilton, a developmentally disabled man from Lakeville, shocked Minnesotans when it happened in October 2008. Diepold was convicted of the crime in October 2009.

The group took Hamilton to a remote area in southern Dakota Country and beat, cut and burned him. He sustained two broken ribs and many other injuries in the attack. He was also robbed, and he and his family were threatened. At one point he was tied to a tree and burned with a lighter and a heated credit card. After the second beating, Hamilton was found by a passerby and taken for medical treatment.

Diepold was convicted of six violent felony crimes and a misdemeanor, following a bench trial. The convictions are for two counts of felony kidnapping, two counts of felony false imprisonment and one count each of felony aggravated robbery, felony third-degree assault and gross misdemeanor theft. Dakota County District Judge Tim Wermager presided over the case. Diepold agreed to the proceeding last summer, in which both sides submitted written evidence. Wermager also found Diepold not guilty of one count of assault in the third degree (a felony) and two counts of assault in the fourth degree (motivated by bias – both gross misdemeanors).

Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom is seeking a minimum of eight years’ imprisonment for Diepold.

The others involved in the two-night attack on Hamilton have already been sentenced. John Maxwell Maniglia, age 20 of Northfield, pleaded guilty to kidnapping, assault in the third degree (both felonies) and theft (a gross misdemeanor), and was sentenced to eight years in prison on June 15. Diepold and Maniglia were cited by prosecutors as the ringleaders of the attacks.

Glen Richard Ries, age 34 of Northfield, pleaded guilty to assault in the third degree (a felony) and was sentenced to three years in prison on September 28. Timothy John Ketterling, age 22 of Prior Lake, pleaded guilty to theft (a gross misdemeanor) and was sentenced to four days in jail and 80 hours of community work service on July 20.

The case against Natasha Dahn, now age 17 of Lakeville, was completed in juvenile court.  [Source: Dakota County Attorney’s Office, Access Press archives]