Regional News in Review - January 2017

University program focuses on mental health

A few dozen University of Minnesota faculty members in late 2016 started receiving training through a pilot program that organizers hope can help promote good mental health and support students in need of help.

The Minnesota Daily reported that the new “mental health advocates” program teaches faculty and staff how to look for signs of mental health issues, primarily in students.

Advocates received a folder in their November training with tips on identifying distressed students, as well as best practices for responding to threatening or disruptive classroom behavior.

U of M Disability Resource Center Director Donna Johnson said these advocates are not meant to serve as therapists, but rather as people who can provide students with a variety of mental health resources on campus.

The advocates will partake in another training session in February, and the program will be evaluated at the end of the spring semester. (Source: University of Minnesota
Daily)

 

Hansmeier faces new allegations

Controversial attorney Paul Hansmeier  is being investigated by the FBI for past work representing a nonprofit suing businesses for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Hansmeier, who was recently indicted for offenses related to copyright trolling, is now accused by a former client of withholding legal proceeds for the disability lawsuits.

Before his law license was suspended, Hansmeier represented the Disability Support Alliance, or DSA. Hansmeier would sue businesses for minor violations of the ADA, using “testers” who would look for violations.

The DSA now claims most of the settlements went to Hansmeier and people who tested the businesses. The Dakota County Attorney’s office is reviewing possible charges against the four testers. The case follows an investigation by the Burnsville Police Department.

Hansmeier’s wife continues to file access-related lawsuits, but not for the DSA. (Source: KMSP TV)

 

Stolen van tires are replaced

Can Do Canine’s van is back on the road thanks to a local tire company. The New Hope-based nonprofit, which raises and trains assistance dogs for people with a variety of disabilities, thought the Grinch had visited Christmas Eve. Staff found the van on jacks and all four of its tires missing. Initially Can Do Canines asked the thief to return the tires and take the jacks back, no questions asked.

But many people, upon hearing about the theft, stepped up with offers of help. That includes a tire store. Kirk Sodergren, store manager of Tires Plus in New Hope, stepped in and replaced all of the wheels and tires and gave the van fresh oil change. The organization said it has also received multiple financial contributions which will go towards maintenance for the rest of its vehicle fleet.

“We are so grateful for the generous contributions from Tires Plus and from all the people who stepped up to help. It is wonderful to hear from all these people who have the Christmas spirit!” said Al Peters, executive director of Can
Do Canines. (Source: KARE 11 News)

 

Housing ordinance raises concerns

A recently passed West St. Paul ordinance restricts where some people with disabilities who receive government rental assistance and support services can live, barring them from areas zoned for townhouses or apartments in the future.

The city’s police department said it has been overburdened with calls from apartment buildings with residents with disabilities. Disability advocates contend the ordinance is discriminatory, and Dakota County officials say it “severely restricts choice” for the disabled.

The ordinance comes after a yearlong West St. Paul moratorium on issuing new group home licenses, which began in summer 2015. Roberta Opheim, the state ombudsman for mental health and developmental disabilities, said the
ordinance may conflict with federal fair housing rules.

West St. Paul officials said the ordinance is aimed at companies that are providing the apartments. “It’s not the people we’re regulating — we’re regulating the business, and that’s how we had to view it,” said City Attorney Kori Land. She said it’s not fair to the rest of the community to allow some housing units to tie up police or other public services.

Residents who receive benefits that the state calls “registered housing with services” live independently but qualify for services such as transportation, money management or nursing assistance.

Andrea Zuber, county social services director, wrote West St. Paul a letter objecting to the ordinance. Zuber said that Minnesota’s Olmstead Plan, mandated by a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court decision, emphasizes that people with disabilities must be allowed to choose appropriate places to live within a community. (Source: Star Tribune)

 
Woman stole from care facility clients

A former employee at a Red Wing care facility for persons with developmental disabilities has been accused of stealing more than $4,500 from its clients. Jamie Faith Cable, 31, of Bay City, Wis., faces two counts of financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult and one count of financial transaction card-fraud, all felonies.

The investigation began in August, when the director of REM River Bluffs Park Heights in Red Wing contacted police about a theft of client funds by an employee. An audit had indicated that money was missing.

Cable, who was program coordinator at REM, told another employee that she had taken money from all 11 clients. Court documents indicated that Cable said she needed to pay bills, was going to replace the money and was remorseful. She confessed to taking a total of $4,682.48 from January through August. She withdrew cash at ATMs using the clients’ debit cards, to reload her own debit card with funds and by using clients’ cash to buy money orders for herself.

She has been released on her own recognizance and is due back in Goodhue County District Court in February.  (Source: Rochester Post-Bulletin)

 

Guardianship changes are eyed

A coalition of Minnesota nonprofits is developing an alternative to a system in which vulnerable adults live under the supervision of a court-appointed guardian. Guardians have broad authority over the money, medical care and personal relationships of people under their care, but many guardians have stolen from those they are trusted to help and protect.

Advocates have said the approach known as “supportive decision making,” would allow more flexibility for vulnerable adults. The goal is to figure out areas where a client needs help making decisions and then developing a customized plan.

Volunteers of America of Minnesota and Wisconsin is creating the system with help from a $1 million federal grant. The group will connect vulnerable adults with relatives and social workers who have expertise in caring for people with disabilities. In order to build the system, Volunteers of America wants to create a center to promote supported decision making for older persons and adults with disabilities.

“This has the potential to be a revolutionary approach,” said Anita Raymond, project director at Volunteers of America. “We are seeking to change the culture in Minnesota of defaulting to the use of guardianship.”

“Guardianship is a forced bludgeon,” said Amanda Vickstrom, executive director of the Minnesota Elder Justice Center in St. Paul, one of the groups leading the effort. “Before we strip away all of a person’s rights, we have a duty to explore less-restrictive alternatives.”

Advocates said hundreds of Minnesota residents could regain control over basic decisions such as where to live, whom to date and how to spend their money if the model catches on. Minnesota courts receive 1,500 to 2,000 petitions for guardianship each year. Judges often grant them unlimited powers under the law. (Source: Associated Press)