Regional News in Review – July 2010

Transit transition moving ahead With only a few regular bus routes in the White Bear Lake area, Jean Schaffhausen used […]

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Transit transition moving ahead

With only a few regular bus routes in the White Bear Lake area, Jean Schaffhausen used to rely on her sister and a few friends to provide rides to such destinations as her frequent dentist appointments, to the nearby Workforce Center, or even to shop at the Maplewood Mall. Since March, Schaffhausen has been able to choose the Transit Link public dial-a-ride service for weekday trips, which has allowed her to plan without having to coordinate a ride with someone else.

“It’s a very nice service,” said Schaffhausen, who doesn’t drive. She said she appreciates how Transit Link allows her to have some independence, “so I don’t have to bother my sister.” Schaffhausen is one of thousands of metropolitan area residents who now have access to transit as a result of the new Transit Link program, though they don’t live in an area served by regular routes.

Since early 2010, the Metropolitan Council has been reorganizing the region’s dial-a-ride transit service to streamline and lend consistency to the service throughout the seven-county metro area. Previously, as many as 20 providers received regional funding for dial-a-ride service, and each group operated under its own guidelines and within limited service areas. As of May 1, the Transit Link system is fully implemented region-wide.

“The restructuring assures the availability of a public transit option for areas not served by regular transit routes,” said Gerri Sutton, assistant director in the council’s Metropolitan Transportation Services department. “Any time you have to meld so many different services into one it can be challenging, but the transition has gone well.”

Since February, the Council has been phasing in the Transit Link service in Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, and Washington counties—the four counties that chose to have the council administer service contracts. Anoka, Carver, and Scott counties manage their own dial-a-ride service. [Source: Metropolitan Council]

Treatment of disabled boy scrutinized

A severely disabled boy was wrongly sent home from a hospital emergency room in Lake City, without an assessment or treatment—but with a note saying he was well enough to return to school—after Wabasha County officials ordered the boy’s parents to seek treatment for his unexplained injuries and weakness.

The next day, local authorities sent an ambulance to the boy’s home and took him to a different hospital, where he was admitted for several days with what state investigators described as “severe malnutrition, starvation, bedsores and uncontrolled seizures.” The incident took place in March.

In June the Minnesota Department of Health cited Mayo Health System’s Lake City Medical Center for violating two federal rules on emergency room care. They concluded that a nurse at the hospital granted the father’s request that the boy not be examined but be sent home with a note. Lake City Police must decide whether the boy’s father should be charged with a crime.

Under federal rules, the hospital should have recorded the boy’s March visit to the emergency room and conducted a medical assessment to determine whether he required emergency treatment. The Health Department did not offer any identifying information about the boy, his family or any other individuals.

Hospital officials issued a statement saying that “our policies and protocols, designed to protect patients, were not fully followed.” The state citations won’t be appealed. [Source: Star Tribune]

Residence faces money problems

Ramsey County’s Lake Owasso Residence in Shoreview serves 64 people who have mental disabilities, as well as behavioral or medical concerns. But the county-run facility, which is the only one of its kind left in the state, faces shortfalls of millions of dollars. County officials are scrambling to find ways to keep the home open.

“It’s starting to cost more money, a bit here and a bit there, and that starts adding up,” said County Commissioner Tony Bennett, whose district includes the facility. “If we can find a way to save it, I would love to see that happen.”

The residence first opened in 1915 as a tuberculosis sanitarium. It became a state-operated home for people with developmental disabilities about 35 years later. When the state decided to close it, Ramsey County took it over in 1976. In 1990, the County Board voted to close the facility, against the wishes of staff and residents’ families but to the satisfaction of advocates who pushed for de-institutionalization and smaller group homes in communities. A few years later, though, a different County Board rescinded the directive to close. The old buildings were torn down and eight townhouses with eight private rooms each replaced them.

The state reimburses the county for residents’ daily living expenses. But county taxpayers have contributed about $260,000 per year to operate the home. The facility is operating at a deficit, with a $713,000 shortfall eyed in 2010 and a $960,000 shortfall in 2011. The facility is expected to be out of cash by 2012 despite cuts.

County officials are discussing costs savings with worker union representatives. County Board members are reluctant to close Lake Owasso, as the residents would have to be housed elsewhere. [Source: Star Tribune]

Family struggles with house

A contractor is trying to help a Minneapolis woman, whose dream of a new home for her disabled son turned into a nightmare. Shamsho Abdi was desperately seeking a new home for her 15-year-old son, who is severely disabled and suffers from respiratory problems. Doctors said poor air circulation in the family’s cramped apartment was making him sicker, but the single mother of two didn’t know how she was going to afford something better.

Carlos Patino was trying to unload a condemned south Minneapolis home that he bought last summer for $26,000. The Minneapolis real estate investor, who has acquired at least 10 distressed properties in the past decade, had just been reprimanded by city officials for operating as an unlicensed contractor.

Abdi and Patino met only once, shortly after Patino signed papers in September transferring ownership of the house to Abdi’s sister for $55,000. But Abdi and her sister didn’t find out about the house’s troubled history for another six months.
Contrary to city regulations, Patino failed to disclose the true condition of the Clinton Avenue house before he sold it. The property was condemned in 2007 after inspectors found it vacant and boarded up. It subsequently flunked a code inspection when regulators found numerous violations, including asbestos contamination, hazardous heating and cooling systems and a buckling foundation.

Patino was supposed to fix the problems and have the house reinspected before he sold it, but he never did.

To make matters worse, the contractor hired to renovate the house allegedly abandoned the job after she was paid $46,000. City inspectors said much of the work she did was not up to code. The family is unable to move into the house but a contractor and other volunteers are trying to help them. [Source: Star Tribune]

Registries are lacking

A national survey conducted by PHI to assess whether states have a public “matching services registry” to facilitate connections between consumers who receive self-directed care in their homes—and independent direct-care workers who provide that care—found that only one-third of the states have developed this type of registry. Self-directed care allows elders and people with disabilities, or their families, to directly hire and supervise independent caregivers who provide personal care services and supports.

“Consumer-directed care is the fastest growing service delivery option,” said PHI Director of Policy Research Dorie Seavey, Ph.D., who conducted the survey, “yet there is little public infrastructure in place to help consumers and providers find each other for appropriate and efficient employment matches.

“Robust, public matching service registries can alleviate some of the challenges that both consumers and workers face. They can reduce unmet need due to difficulties that consumers encounter trying to locate independent providers. And for workers, they can play a valuable role in stabilizing employment and providing access points for training and other resources,” Seavey said.

Public “matching service registries” are interactive electronic databases that typically provide up-to-date detailed information about the consumer’s needs and preferences and the worker’s availability, skills and preferences. They may offer additional services such as worker screening and orientation, access to consumer and worker training, and recruitment and outreach to potential workers.

PHI’s state-by-state survey on public “matching services registries” found that 16 states had statewide matching services, five states had regional matching services, two states had matching services under consideration or development, and 28 states had no statewide or regional matching service. Minnesota has no statewide or regional matching service. n

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