Regional News in Review – January 2018

Safety program is proposed All too easily, vulnerable adults can wander off from their homes. That can be a dangerous […]

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Safety program is proposed

All too easily, vulnerable adults can wander off from their homes. That can be a dangerous problem in places like Minnesota where temperatures can dip well below freezing. U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, is concerned about the number of such incidents in her state. She sees the problem as preventable with simple technology that is easy and inexpensive to administer.

Klobuchar has sponsored a bipartisan bill that’s already passed the Senate, and next goes to the House. It would provide millions in funding to provide the tracking bracelets for people with various developmental and cognitive disabilities. The bracelets would allow law enforcement officers to locate bracelet wearers when they wander from home.

Klobuchar is hoping to have the bill passed into law in 2018. It is one of many issues she is working on. Klobuchar will be joined in the U.S. Senate in January by former Lieutenant Gov. Tina Smith. Smith is being sworn in to replace Al Franken, who was dogged by accusations of sexual misconduct and announced his resignation earlier this month. It was the first time in Minnesota history two female senators will represent the state, though Klobuchar says she’s just looking forward to getting things done.

“I think this is going to be quite a moment to come into the Senate,” she said. “It’s historic, but what really matters to me isn’t if it’s a man or a woman, but that it’s someone who gets things done.” (Source: KMSP-TV)


Ex-executive pleads guilty

Starkey Laboratories’ former chief financial officer pleaded guilty in December to a single conspiracy charge, in a plea agreement reached with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Scott Arthur Nelson, 58, was fired from the Eden Prairie based hearing aid maker in September 2015. He was subsequently accused of self-dealing in a $15 million stock scheme, and pleaded guilty to the single conspiracy charge as part of a “felony information.” Nelson waived his right to a formal indictment and jury trial. He previously pleaded not guilty to various charges involving the fraudulent transfer of restricted stock associated with a Starkey subsidiary called Northland Hearing.

Judge John R. Tunheim said that Nelson now faces a possible sentence of up to 60 months in jail, plus the forfeiture of up to $2.53 million in ill-gotten stock sale and insurance proceeds. Tunheim also said that as part of his plea agreement, Nelson must cooperate with federal authorities regarding other co-defendants in the Starkey fraud case. That includes former Starkey President Jerry Ruzicka and former Starkey human resources manager Larry Miller. The criminal trial involving Ruzicka, Miller and former Starkey business associates Larry Hagen and Jeff Taylor, is currently scheduled to begin January 16. Nelson’s sentencing hearing has been delayed, but is expected soon. Several former Starkey officials have been indicted on charges of embezzlement and illegal transfer of stock. Starkey is an internationally known hearing aid firm. (Source: Star Tribune)


Driverless cars eyed for rural areas?

Rural Minnesota residents could benefit from driverless cars, according to University of Minnesota researcher Frank Douma. He created a task force in 2016 to examine how to give residents across the state access to self-driving vehicles.

While many see possibilities of driverless vehicles in cities or suburbs, Douma said they could benefit rural communities. People who can’t drive because of disabilities or financial obstacles, as well as older drivers could benefit.

The technology is still being developed. The Minnesota Department of Transportation is making advances in self-driving vehicle technology. The department will run a self-driving shuttle in Minneapolis during Super Bowl week in February.

Douma predicts such vehicles could be on the road by 2025 or 2030. The vehicles could also improve the state’s 41 rural transit systems and cut down on recruitment and drivers’ salary expenses.

Officials and people with disabilities in rural areas agree. “I think it’s a tremendous growth opportunity for us,” said Itasca County Sheriff Vic Williams. “It allows the accessibility for people limited in their mobility to be able to have some freedoms that we take for granted.”

Myrna Peterson is on Douma’s task force. She was paralyzed in a car accident more than 20 years ago. The 68-year-old often makes a two-mile commute to Grand Rapids in her electric wheelchair. “Twenty-three surgeries later, I’m not dead yet,” she said. “I am on a mission to make things more accessible for those people who don’t have a voice or are incapable of speaking for themselves.” (Source: Minnesota Public Radio)


Patients pay more for mental health help

Even Minnesotans who have health insurance are increasingly likely to pay more for mental health treatment compared to other medical care, a trend that’s coming under greater scrutiny by insurance regulators. A recent study that looked at three years of insurance claims, including nearly seven million in Minnesota, has advocates concerned that added cost burden for mental health treatment will discourage people from seeking help.

Regulators are asking if the situation violates a 2008 federal law named partly after the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, requiring any coverage for mental health is at parity with coverage for medical care. Health plans do a good job providing enrollees with a network of physicians to serve medical needs, according to the research. But when it comes to getting mental health care, enrollees went out of network much more often, boosting co-payments. That can further complicate the search for treatment; a process made more difficult when people are most vulnerable.

In 2015, out of network mental health care jumped threefold, accounting for 11 percent of all therapy sessions, according to the study conducted by the consulting firm Milliman. The Minnesota Commerce Department, which has regulatory authority over mental health parity laws, said complaints are increasing “We have been hearing from people that it has been hard to get into networks and this confirms that,” said Sue Abderholden, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Minnesota. “Time has come to just stop discriminating against people with mental illness.” (Source: Star Tribune)


Vitals app available to more people

For people with disabilities, the Vitals app can provide safety. Vitals is a new technology, a service with two apps, designed to create safer interactions between law enforcement and people with behavioral, mental health, and developmental disorders. The St. Paul Police Department became the first department in the state to use the app, starting to do so earlier in 2017. Other departments are starting to use the app or are considering it.

The app alerts police officers of “invisible” disabilities, such as autism or dementia. Officers can then use that information to de-escalate confusing situations and to help people when there is a crisis.

But the app has a cost, of more than $100 per year per person. That’s why it was welcome news in December 2017 when an anonymous person donated $10,000 to The Arc Greater Twin Cities and Vitals Aware Services to provide 100 people with disabilities with the Vitals app for one year.

The donation, combined with a $2,000 gift from Vitals, will ensure the $120 annual cost per person for the app will be covered for one year. For more information, go here. (Source: St. Paul Pioneer Press)


Ehlinger out at health department

Following reports of abuse and neglect at state nursing homes, Dr. Edward Ehlinger, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health resigned in December 2017. His resignation comes in the wake of charges that the department has failed to properly investigate reports of abuse and neglect in senior care facilities.

The issues have been investigated by KARE-11 and the Star Tribune. Both news outlets have reported on incidents of abuse and neglect. Workers have been caught on video cameras verbally abusing and threatening a patient with dementia. Sexual assaults of patients have been reported. But some complaints weren’t even investigated by state officials. KARE 11 investigated a case where a woman with both legs broken waited many hours for help.

Outraged family members have demanded action, as have state lawmakers. “Why are we continuing to hear about the abuse neglect and harm to our senior population?” Sen. Karin Housley (R-St. Mary’s) said at a news conference.

In 2016, the state received more than 24,000 reports of abuse and neglect. But records reveal the vast majority of them – more than 23,000 – were never thoroughly investigated.

Gov. Mark Dayton named Health Department Deputy Commissioner Dan Pollock acting commissioner until a permanent replacement is selected. Dayton also ordered that the Minnesota Department of Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General provide the Health Department assistance in improving the management of its investigations of elder neglect and abuse. (Source: KARE 11)


Text for safety on Metro Transit

Many people with disabilities in the Twin Cities use Metro Transit buses and trains to travel. The new Text for Safety number is 612-900-0411, allowing transit riders to contact Metro Transit by text. Use it to report non-emergency situations, to silently report something that doesn’t look right on a bus, on a train or at a transit shelter. The service is accessible via the Metro Transit Mobile App. The Text for Safety service is determined by the user’s mobile plan.

The texts go directly to trained Metro Transit staff who can respond by text, and if needed, send Transit Police. The new feature doesn’t take the place of calling 911 in emergencies, said Metro Transit spokesman Drew Kerr. It allows riders to discreetly report safety concerns, such as in harassing situations, without having to make a phone call and become vulnerable.

“It’s just another way to connect with us,” Kerr said. And while 911 will always work, the app feature could be quicker because “you get a hold of person who knows the transit system,” Kerr said. If there’s a problem on Route 4, police will know it’s on Lyndale Avenue, for example. The service is aimed at helping deaf, blind or hard-of-hearing riders. Translation services for multiple languages are available.

The app feature comes after the statewide “Text-to-911” went live. The service allows anyone needing to reach 911 to send a text message when calling for help is not an option. (Source: Star Tribune)


Facility cited for neglect

A facility that offers residential services for people with disabilities in southeast Minnesota has been cited by the state for neglect of a vulnerable adult and fined $5,000. Minnesota Department of Human Services alleges a resident’s gums grew over removable dentures over a period of almost three years while living at REM River Bluffs in Rochester.

The dentures had to be removed through a dental procedure in October 2017, according to a department report. A large tumor or growth was found on the person’s gums. The staff member who accompanied the person to the dentist believed the individual had a lower dental implant and wasn’t aware the dentures were removable. Staff turnover also contributed to the individual not getting annual dental care as required, according to staff members at the facility. Staff members have since received additional training to ensure the resident’s dentures are removed nightly and properly cleaned, according to the state.

The company, which also offers services in Olmsted and Winona counties, self-reported the problem to the department and immediately sought dental care for the individual, said Pat Masyga, the facility’s executive director.

Masyga said the company is committed to providing quality of life enhancing services to the individuals we are privileged to support. REM River Bluffs has worked to improve its dental and medical care filing and medical audits, Masyga said. The company is also working to implement electronic records. (Source: KSTP-TV)


Dog’s tale has a happy ending

A few months after a golden Labrador named Bandit was found abandoned inside a hot and filthy home, he began training to become a service dog. Bandit was among a dozen dogs taken from an Eagle Lakehouse in September 2017 after neighbors reported persistent barking. Their owner hadn’t been seen for days. After watching the house for 30 hours, police officers rescued the dogs. The dog owner was charged with animal mistreatment. Eight puppies and four adult dogs went to a Mankato veterinarian and were treated for malnutrition and dehydration. Once healthy, all the dogs were adopted, except for Bandit.

Mending Spirits Animal Rescue volunteer Kathryn Smith agreed to give Bandit a second chance. “I was his last hope,” she told the Mankato Free Press. She drove from her twin Cities suburban home to get the dog and begin training him as a service animal. Smith has trained several service dogs for veterans and children with disabilities.

Smith works with a group called Take a Vet Fishing to identify veterans who have post-traumatic stress disorder and would benefit from a service dog. Bandit will live with a veteran in Wisconsin. While service dogs can cost up to thousands of dollars through other organizations, Bandit’s future owner will not pay anything. Smith donates her time an Take a Vet Fishing is paying Bandit’s adoption fee to Mending Spirits. It is hoped that Bandit will go to his new home in early 2018. (Source: Mankato Free Press)


Parents make case for interpretation

Julie and Matt Svatos had their first child, Stella, at the Fairview Range Medical Center in Hibbing in May 2013. The delivery went fine, but the next morning, a doctor gave them some bad news: Stella might have a brain abnormality, and she needed several tests, including a CT scan. Julie could hear the doctor, but Matt is deaf. The sign language interpreter who was there for the birth had left.

It was a stressful and exhausting process for the new mother, who was trying to sign to her husband and understand the difficult news. But no interpreter was provided to the Santos despite repeated requests.

“They would just kind of ignore me as if I wasn’t there,” Matt Svatos said. “And they would only talk to Julie as if she was the only one in the room. I just felt like they were treating me like a piece of furniture just standing there in the corner.” The family filed a complaint with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. They and state officials sued Fairview Health Services.

Their case is one of dozens filed against Minnesota hospitals. Many rural hospitals lack interpreters to provide required services. Rick Macpherson, an attorney with the Minnesota Disability Law Center, has settled 15 cases against hospitals since 2004. Some organizations just don’t consider providing interpreters a very high priority, he said. Other hospitals provide interpreters by video, which has met criticism from the deaf community.

Fairview agreed to a settlement of their case with the Svatos and the state. Fairview also agreed to improve training for staff, and report regularly to the state.




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