Regional News in Review – July 2015

Contract covers workers now About 27,000 Minnesota personal care attendants, who help the aged and disabled remain in their homes and out […]

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Contract covers workers now

About 27,000 Minnesota personal care attendants, who help the aged and disabled remain in their homes and out of institutions, are now covered by a contract. As of July 1, the workers are covered by a first-ever contract negotiated between the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the state of Minnesota. The contract guarantees a wage floor of $10.75 per hour, paid time off, a new grievance process and a training program.

The law allowing unionization was passed in the final hours of the 2013 legislative session, after which the SEIU obtained 10,000 worker signatures for an election. A majority of workers voted to form a collective bargaining unit in summer 2014 and celebratedthe win at the Minnesota State Fair.

However, the legal fight over unionization isn’t over and has gotten to the federal appeals court level. The lawsuit is supported by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, a heavyweight in the conservative legal world. Oral arguments in the case are anticipated this fall. The unionization effort Alsop continues to be opposed by some families and care companies. Some families contended that they are being forced to pay more, including paid time off, and that family members must pick up the slack.

Union supporters said the effort helps a group of workers who need adequate compensation for what is very demanding work. They cite the turnover in worker ranks and how some people have had to work two or three jobs to make ends meet.

The union is what is called an “open shop,” meaning the SEIU will bargain on behalf of all the workers. No one has to join or pay dues if they don’t want to. (Source: Star Tribune)



Couple claims harassment

Plymouth city officials are trying to sort out whether a couple with disabilities is being harassed based on disability, or whether the issue is simply a neighbors’ dispute.

The couple has lived in a Plymouth condo for about five years. Both are hearing impaired. The husband lives with post-traumatic stress disorder. The condo is modified to meet their need. The couple has a service dog to help them stay alert and to deal with the PSTD effects.

The couple told KARE-11 News that a neighbor is always complaining about the dog’s barking, and that the neighbor pounds on their ceiling, yells at them and has threatened to have the service dog taken away. The couple’s community service advocate has also witnessed the behavior.

Both sides have called the Plymouth Police Department.  “Could there be some underlying bias? Maybe. I hope that there isn’t, but if there is, we won’t tolerate it,” said Plymouth Police Chief Mike Goldstein. The chief said his department is taking the situation very seriously but believes this might be more a case of misunderstanding rather than harassment.

The husband and service dog owner said he is too afraid to meet with the neighbor, even with police as mediators. Hammer, an organization dedicated to helping adults with disabilities, says that’s a very real fear. “People with disabilities have often been pushed away or looked at sideways or treated as not being whole human beings, so they are sort of trained sometimes to be a bit apprehensive,” said Hammer CEO John Estrem.

So, as it stands now, the couple feels trapped, with no solution. (Source: KARE-11 News)


Bionic eye changes his view

A Duluth area man recently became the first person in Minnesota to receive an Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System, commonly known as a bionic eye. The futuristic device, which combines dark glasses, a tiny camera, a video unit and an implant just below the skin, bypasses his eyes to send signals beyond the damaged level of his retina, said Duane Tsutsui. He’s the spokesman for Second Sight, the California-based company that makes the $144,000 device. The University of Minnesota Department of Ophthalmology handled the medical procedure.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the device for individuals with retinitis pigmentosa — an inherited and progressive eye disease — and only when they have “bare light” or “no light” perception, Tsutsui said. That means that, at best, the individual can tell the difference between indoor and outdoor light but can’t perceive anything else.

James Kelm has been essentially sightless since age30. He was diagnosed as legally blind at age seven. He uses a cane and for 13 years had a guide dog.

The bionic eye meant he could see again — although not in a way that most people might define seeing. “The vision is very limited in comparison to what a sighted person sees,” he said. “What I’ve told people is it’s like looking at the night sky where you have millions of twinkly lights that almost look like chaos. What I’m in the process of now is learning how to identify the different constellations.” He is now learning to use the eye.

“It’s entirely artificial,” Tsutsui said. “It’s not color; it’s black and white. Your brain has to learn how to interpret the signals.”

Kelm said he’s happy to be part of the new technology, not only because of what it is doing for him but because it makes him a sort of guinea pig for expanding the technology in the future.  (Source: Duluth News-Tribune)


Autism program cuts opposed

Minneapolis parents of children with autism are expressing opposition to school program cuts. Minneapolis Public Schools officials recently announced that they were discontinuing a citywide program, for students with a less severe diagnosis. Students are classified at three levels. Level 1 and 2 students will no longer be eligible for the program. District officials said is because the children can be served in their community schools, rather than in specialized programs.

That change doesn’t affect students who aren’t in the program but does affect those waiting to enroll. The decision was made at the school district level to free up resources to serve students in their community schools. District officials also said it meets a federal requirement that students be served in the least restrictive way possible. But parents, some of whom moved specifically so that their children could be in specialized programs, said the program is an asset the district should be promoting, Many parent have objected to having their children with autism grouped with other special education student. Others said their children regressed in community school programs, to the point that the children needed more intensive programs later.

The program change also surprised many parents because it was made at the administrative level and not by the school board. Many parents found out when they tried to enroll their children in the program. (Source: KSTP-TV, Star Tribune)


Program is unconstitutional

Saying the Minnesota Sex Offender Treatment Program fails on many levels, U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank ruled June 17 that the program is unconstitutional and in need of systematic reform. The judge harshly criticized the trouble program, saying in a 76-page order than many of offenders in the program have no hope of release. Frank ruled on a class-action lawsuit centered on the program’s constitutionality.

Gov. Mark Dayton and other officials announced that the state would appeal the decision and defend the program. State officials sought an immediate right to appeal, which could mean several months’ delay for the 700 men held at Moose Lake and St. Peter facilities. The two sides return to court August 10 to discuss next steps.

In his order Frank said even though some offenders have completed prison sentences, they are still held at the program under the guise of getting treatment. But when treatment standards change or release isn’t authorized, those in the program stay in the centers.

Only three people have been released in the program’s 20-year history. Advocates content that with treatment and supportive housing, others could be released into community settings.

The decision is likely to spark other legal actions. Some offenders have claimed post-traumatic stress disorders as a result of being locked up for so long. Others have physical or intellectual disabilities. (Source: Star Tribune, KMSP-TV)


Can you hear him now?

Toy bugs, an eighth grade Minnesota boy, and a school science project. This combination is helping save money for people who wear hearing aids.

Ethan Manuell, a middle school student at Rochester Central Lutheran, found that hearing aid batteries can last up to 85 percent longer. Users just have to leave the batteries exposed to oxygen before being inserted into the hearing aid itself.

“You can google Ethan,” said Ethan’s mom, Lila Manuell while laughing, recalling the experiment spread across her home for months.

When teacher Mrs. Omland, assigned her students the task of creating a project for the school science fair, the 14 year-old turned to his toy box for some plastic battery-operated bugs that he converted to work with hearing aid batteries. The young scientist discovered that zinc hearing aid batteries, which come with a tab or sticker attached to the back of them, last longer the longer they are exposed to air after removing the tab.

“With waiting five minutes, you can increase the lifespan by 85 percent,” he said. Some hearing aid battery packets, in microscopic print, do warn that for best results the battery should sit untabbed for one minute, others offer no instructions at all. But by carefully monitoring how long the batteries lasted in the toy bugs, after being left untabbed for various amounts of time, Manuell came up with his five-minute rule.

Manuell has worn a hearing aid in his left ear since the age of four. He got the idea for his experiment when visiting with his audiologist, Dr. Mary Meier, at Olmsted Medical Center. “I keep telling my patients about it,” said Meier, “I’m just so proud of this kid.”

“It’s in our written information when we do a fitting,” she said. “In the real hearing aid world, it’s translating to hearing aids, the battery in the hearing aid lasting one to two days longer, which is a huge impact for people wearing hearing aids because the batteries typically only last five to seven days as it is, so if you can increase it by another day, that is huge.”

Seven million Americans wear hearing aids and it’s estimated the discovery could save the average hearing aid wearer about $70 a year. The science fair project has won local, regional and state accolades and even a prestigious U.S. Naval Science Award. (Source: KARE 11 News)


Savers settles lawsuit

Thrift store chain store Savers has agreed to modify how it handles donations and pays local charities. The settlement announced June 25 calls for paying local charities $1.8 million or $300,000 per group, including a number of charities serving people with disabilities.

Savers officials said they disagree with Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson, who filed suit against Savers last month. Swanson contended that Savers was misrepresenting what it does for charities. Minnesota is the first state to challenge Savers’ practices.

Under the settlement Savers will more clearly disclose in signs and written materials that it is a for-profit professional fundraiser. It will stop soliciting items whose proceeds don’t benefit charities. Savers also agreed to prominently display and disclose the actual amounts it pays the charities when the retailer sells donated goods in its stores. Yet another provision of the settlement calls for Savers to label and track items. That is, if someone donates goods to a specific charity, proceeds will actually go to that group.

Groups getting the payments from Savers as a result of the settlement include True Friends, Courage Kenny Foundation, Lupus Foundation of Minnesota, Disabled American Veterans Department of Minnesota, Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota and Vietnam Veterans of Minnesota. Swanson had sued Epilepsy Foundation as part of the action against Savers but that nonprofit hopes to reach an agreement with state officials shortly. (Source: Star Tribune, KSTP-TV)


Special Olympics are celebrated

SOMNThousands of Special Olympics Minnesota athletes, supporters and fans gathered for the Celebration of Champions June 18 at the Mall of America. Those at the event celebrated the Minnesota State Summer Games, Los Angeles 2015 World Games and the Unified Relay Across America. It also marked the running in of the torch as it makes its way across the country through the relay in honor of the 2015 Games in LA.

The Celebration of Champions drew a large crowd. The evening included special performances from Ian and the Dream and Lennon and Maisy from the hit ABC show “Nashville” along with appearances from KSTP and ESPN personalities. The community celebration event was a fun way for everyone to support Special Olympics and unify their communities.

For more information on the Celebration of Champions, visit 


Medical marijuana now legal

Some families have waited years for medical marijuana in Minnesota, praying it will make a life changing difference for loved ones dealing with terminal illnesses, cancer, and other debilitating conditions.

The Garins, who live in St. Paul, are certainly part of that group, although that wasn’t always the case. “All I could think about was pot, teenagers smoking pot,” Angela Garin told KTSP-TV “That’s all I could think about.”

That changed with the family’s six-year-old son, Pax. Pax has autism and polymicrogyria, a neurological disorder. He can’t talk and he has many seizures every day.

“He has hundreds of seizures a day,” Angela Garin said. “He’ll have between 15 and 20 actual seizures in a cluster.”

The Garins have tried everything-more than a Medical marijuana now legal dozen drugs dating all the way back to when Pax was a baby. They tried marijuana oil during an Oregon stay. Oregon is the only state where patients don’t have to be a resident to use medical marijuana. A doctor prescribed Pax marijuana oil, and it worked, reducing his seizures from 100 a day to about a dozen. They came back in time for the 2014 medical marijuana debate heated up at the capitol.

More families are likely to try the oil, “It’s a rollout, not a race. So certainly we know that there will be a buildup over time,” said Minnesota Department of Health Spokesperson Mike Schommer.

In Minnesota, patients have to be diagnosed with one of nine conditions to be eligible for medical marijuana. The Department of Health estimates that roughly 5,000 people statewide will enroll in the first year.  (Source: KSTP-TV)


Accessibility dispute in Rochester

A Minneapolis attorney who has fought a similar battle in Marshall and the Twin Cities is now filing lawsuits to make Rochester businesses more accessible to people with disabilities. Paul Hansmeier has threatened to file suits against at least eight Rochester businesses in the last four to six weeks, according to attorney Greg Griffiths of Dunlap & Seeger. He described the majority of the complaints as focusing on the parking lot markings, signage and the business entryways.

Hansmeier did not respond to calls to his Class Justice LLC office in Minneapolis to the Rochester Post-Bulletin. He works with a group called the Disability Support Alliance.

Business owners want to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) but Hansmeier and his client aren’t satisfied. They have filed against Rochester stores, a mall and the Mahler Hotel. Mahler Hotels have responded with a counter-claim asking for $50,000 in damages from the Disability Support Alliance. The countersuit says the original complaint “misuses and perverts the purpose of a civil action.”

One of the Rochester businesses affected was Bilotti’s Pizzeria. Owner Karla Sperry first was notified of a problem when an information letter threatening a civil lawsuit arrived two weeks ago. The suit pointed out her handicapped parking spaces at 821 Civic Center Drive did not have signs in addition to the lot markings. The complaint asked for $5,000 for damages. The signs had been removed during a building renovation and being put back.

“These people (Disability Support Alliance) had no intention of supporting my business when they drove in here,” Sperry said. “They came in here with every intention of getting rich quick.”

The Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce recently sent information out to its members about the ADA. (Source: Rochester Post-Bulletin)


  • Work with your care provider to stay healthy. Protect yourself. Vaccines are your best protection against being sick.
  • Wash your hands! Hands that look can still have icky germs!

You are not alone. Minnesota Autism Resource Portal.