Regional News in Review – July 2017

Skyway access fight goes on A squabble over skyway access at the Railroader Printing Building isn’t over, despite a 4-3 […]

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Skyway access fight goes on

A squabble over skyway access at the Railroader Printing Building isn’t over, despite a 4-3 June 21 St. Paul City Council vote requiring that the Mears Park property stay open until 2 a.m. After the council vote building manager Jaunae Brooks said she would continue to close the building doors at 8 p.m., despite threats of city fines. The city’s current skyway governance ordinance allows for civil or criminal penalties for violations. In a worst-case scenario, the city could revoke the rights to use the space as part of the skyway system and order it shut down.

The issue has raised the ire of several members of the disability community, who are concerned about skyway system access.

Ward Two Council Member Rebecca Noecker, who represents downtown, spoke against the exception.

Noecker said with more people living, working a going to events downtown, more people are using the skyways and the sidewalks. “And I think this is exactly the wrong time to start to dissect that (skyway) system,” she said. Noecker said the system needs consistent hours for its users, and that she couldn’t find a reason to grant Brooks an exception.

“We passed the original skyway ordinance when the downtown sidewalks rolled up at 5 p.m.,” said Noecker. The original ordinance was adopted in 1991. Since then thousands of people have moved to downtown housing, in new and converted buildings.

Debate over the request for an earlier skyway closing has roiled the City Council for several weeks. It comes at a time when downtown building owners and managers, residents and business owners are debating skyway hours, security and cleanliness.

Large-scale fights among young people, loitering and trash are growing problems. One difficult issue is that of homeless people staying in the skyway for extended periods.

A committee is working on recommended skyway ordinance changes, which are expected to reach the council in August. One proposal would close the skyway system at midnight, rather than maintain the current 2 a.m. closing. A series of meetings on the skyway system began last month.

Brooks offered to make other accommodations to help people get to first-floor tenants Barrio and Bulldog bar/restaurants. One could be a buzzer system so that people could get to the popular establishments via the skyway and an elevator. The buzzer would sound in Bulldog and Barrio, and staff would let people into the skyway and to a connecting elevator. A second offer is for a chair lift inside the building at ground level, as a means of providing access between Barrio and Bulldog restaurants, which are separated by stairs.

Brooks said she is making those offers as a compromise. But those drew a skeptical response. Source: Access Press


Drone to be utilized

A police department in southern Minnesota has acquired a new drone that it hopes to use to track people who wander off due to medical or cognitive conditions. The Rochester Police Department acquired the drone to add to their Project Lifesaver initiative, which monitors adults and children who wander due to Alzheimer’s, autism and other related conditions or disorders, the Post Bulletin reported.

Clients wear a transmitter that is activated when they wander so police can quickly respond to save their lives or protect them from injury. The drone can switch out an antenna for the camera, enabling law enforcement to see the direction of a transmitting signal. The drone’s camera has thermal, night vision and day vision capabilities.

Officer Rey Caban said there have been several cases where he requested aviation support, but a helicopter wasn’t available. So he came up with the idea of using a drone instead. “Not having availability, I can understand the frustration it can cause, so I’m excited we can actually deploy someone in a short period of time,” he said.

The drone and special training for four officers cost about $68,000. The officers are licensed pilots who follow Federal Aviation Administration regulations because they’re operating the drone for a public agency.

The drone was made by international aerospace company Lockheed Martin. Its carbon fiber body is very strong and durable, Caban said. The drone can fly for nearly an hour, while most other drones can only fly about 20 minutes, he said.

“I’m excited to have this,” Caban said, “to potentially save a life — and not just to save the life of someone in immediate danger, but to save officers from confronting an unknown.” Source: Post-Bulletin


Man faces new charges

Marcus Abrams, 19, has autism who was at the center of a controversy involving Metro Transit police has now been charged with punching a police officer in Minneapolis. Abrams just recently settled a lawsuit for $40,000, as a result of a 2015 incident on a light rail platform in St. Paul. In that incident police were accused of using excessive force after a disagreement with Abrams. Abrams was 17 at the time. The incident prompted protests against police brutality. On Memorial Day weekend Abrams punched an officer with Minneapolis Police Department, at bar closing time. Abrams was eventually Tasered by police. He is charged with assault.

After his arrest, Abrams asked a police investigator if he had heard of the 2015 incident. When asked why he punched the officer, Abrams said he didn’t like the police. Source: Minnesota Public Radio


We Can Ride relocates

After nearly four decades in Minnetonka, a therapeutic horseback riding program is settling into new stables this summer in Medina. “It’s really bittersweet; it’s the end of an era,” said Mary Mitten, executive director of We Can Ride, the oldest and largest program of its kind in Minnesota. “[But] we have a really great opportunity being in the park system.”

The nonprofit is trying to raise $350,000 to cover the cost of relocation and to build an outdoor arena at the new site, which will host an open house August 25.

We Can Ride serves about 250 people with disabilities or special needs – from autism or learning disabilities to multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy. Since it began in 1982, the nonprofit had operated on wooded Minnetonka acreage it shared with the Hennepin County Home School, a center for juveniles in trouble with the law. Hennepin County officials recently announced they want to build a $58 million state-of-the-art medical examiner’s office on open land there. The county also plans to restore wetlands where We Can Ride’s barn and offices were located.

The program, including 12 horses, is moving 20 miles away to Baker Park Reserve, in the Three Rivers Park District. The new site has a barn, heated indoor arena and pasture space, which was used until recently for the park district mounted patrol. The horse patrol program was ended a few years ago.

“It turned out to be a good match,” Three Rivers Superintendent Boe Carlson said.

Instructors offer therapeutic riding, hippotherapy, equine-facilitated psychotherapy and equine-assisted learning. While there is some research on the benefits of equine therapy, none of them is covered by insurance. But Mitten said she’s seen many success stories of people having mental or physical improvements through equine therapy.

At one point, We Can Ride had five sites throughout the Twin Cities. Now it just has two sites — the other is in Marine on St. Croix — but Mitten said she hopes the nonprofit can expand again to serve more of the metro area as the popularity of therapeutic riding continues to grow. Source: Star Tribune


Camper is found safe

A tense rescue had a happy ending at Eden Wood, an Eden Prairie summer camp for disabled children. On a June day a nine-year-old at the True Friends camp ran off from the group he was with. The child ran through a swamp and a camp counselor couldn’t keep up.

A Minnesota State Highway Patrol helicopter found the child after about a ten-minute search, sitting atop of what appeared to be a beaver dam. Eden Prairie police and fire, Hennepin County Sheriff’s officials, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Three Rivers Park District staff searched for the child.

“Several firefighters and police officers went into the marsh area and kind of fanned out in small groups, so we didn’t get lost in there,” said Becki White, Eden Prairie assistant  fire chief. “The weeds were over our heads and the water was between ankle to waist deep up and down, so he got stuck a few times and we had to pull ourselves out.”

True Friends issued a statement. “As per our existing safety protocols and procedures, camp staff immediately notified the authorities and other public service agencies.” Camp officials thanked all involved in the search. “True Friends provides life changing experiences that enhance independence and self esteem for over 5,000 children and adults with disabilities each year. We are extremely thankful that the individual was found safe and unharmed.” Source: KMSP TV


Water skiers get gear back

Participants in a Courage Kenny rehabilitation Institute are back on the water, after adaptive water skiing equipment was recovered. A trailer containing about $30,000 in equipment was stolen in late June. The theft threatened to cancel the entire water skiing program for the season.

The trailer was parked outside of a program staff member’s home near Lake Owasso in Roseville when it disappeared.  It contained life vests and 15 adaptive water skis. The skis are designed to allow skiers to be seated, or to provide extra stability when standing.

Eric Larson, who oversees sports and recreation for Courage Kenny, said the theft brought the water skiing program to a complete halt. But days after the theft and just hours before the classes were to start at Lake Owasso, the trailer was found a few miles from where it was stolen. Most of the equipment was still inside.

Larson said he suspects the trailer was abandoned because the thieves didn’t see the value in the equipment, and were expecting to find something like tools that could be resold. The program is popular and has been offered for several years. Source: Star Tribune


Musician faces charges

A Willmar musician who is well-known for playing at area senior living and activity facilities is facing a second allegation of criminal sexual conduct. Terrance Raymond Shaw, 72, appeared in June in Kandiyohi County District Court on one count of fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct, a gross misdemeanor.

The charges are in connection with a 2014 incident in a New London facility.

Shaw was charged with two felony counts of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct with a victim who was mentally impaired, mentally incapacitated or physically helpless.  Those charges stem from an incident in April when Shaw performed at a memory care facility in Willmar and allegedly touched the breasts of a resident with dementia after the performance.

Shaw has denied both allegations and given his own version of events.

His next court appearance for the felony charges filed in May is scheduled for Aug. 21. Further performances at similar facilities will not be allowed pending the outcome of the criminal cases.

As part of the conditional release for the felony charges, Shaw has been told to have no contact with any vulnerable adults. Shaw requested that he be allowed to continue performing at certain senior living facilities. Judge Jennifer Fischer denied the request, agreeing with the state and a county probation officer that the mixed abilities and disabilities of residents living at such facilities makes it difficult to protect the vulnerable from possible victimization. Source: West Central Tribune


Federal grant for children’s mental health

A new federal grant will help make mental health services for Minnesota children more coordinated, community-focused, and collaborative. The four-year grant from the U.S. Department of Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) supports an approach called “systems of care,” which relies on linking and expanding community-based services to keep kids at home and in school.

“Minnesota is taking the next step so children and their families can get the help they need,” said Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper. “Coordinating systems will have a deep, sustainable impact. It would be hard to overestimate the benefits.”

Minnesota is one of eight states to receive the grant, which builds on 24 years of experience since SAMHSA first began to explore the systems of care approach. Systems of care focuses on coordination between agencies that serve children and expansion of proven, innovative services. Minnesota’s grant will help mental health services better serve children and their families, offering community-based services to support their success. Services tailored to each child will be better connected across agencies. The grant also includes training and workforce development and new services, such as piloting a new model to keep kids in school and out of the juvenile justice system.

DHS will launch the grant in collaboration with the Minnesota chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI Minnesota), the Minnesota Association for Children’s Mental Health, Wilder Research and the University of Minnesota. DHS worked with multiple partners to develop the systems of care effort, including the state departments of Corrections, Education, and Health.

Thirty-six counties, the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, the University of Minnesota, child-serving collaborative and community and advocacy organizations will pilot systems of care across the state. The grant begins on September 30 and runs until 2021. Planning and development is already underway. Source: Minnesota DHS


Task force does video outreach

The St. Cloud area’s Disability Awareness Task Force is trying some new outreach. For the first time, the group is having a video challenge to reach out to youth in the community and breaking down barriers for people with disabilities.

The Disabilities Awareness Task Force is a community-wide collaborative made of more than 10 disability-related organizations. It aims to bring awareness and education about people with disabilities to the community.

“We know social media is the way to our youths’ hearts, and they’re so talented at it,” said Cara Ruff, president of the task force and executive director of Independent Lifestyles. She said it’s important to get kids involved in the creation because youth listen to their peers.

“Sometimes it means a whole lot more from youth to youth,” she said.

Two-minute videos are sought. “We want them to deliver messages about treating people with disabilities with respect, and being inclusive,” she said.

The task force will judge the videos. The video score will also be based on how many likes it gets on Facebook and views it gets on YouTube. The winners will receive prizes.

Ruff hopes the challenge will attract some younger people and local sports teams, as one of the themes is around traumatic brain injury.

The task force has already been in touch with Boys & Girls Clubs, local athletic directors and others.

“We hope that’s our biggest problem — that we have way too many and it takes forever to review them,” she said. The winning video will be shown at a community event in October, featuring speaker and traumatic brain injury survivor Nikki Abramson. Source: St. Cloud Times


Assisted living case goes to trial

The family of Dale Gerard gets their day in court August 8, in a wrongful death case involving a West Duluth assisted living facility. Gerard died as a direct result of leaving the Wesley Residence, a judge ruled recently. The case is going to a jury trial.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Mark Munger granted partial summary judgment to Mark Gerard. He is Dale Gerard’s son. Mark Gerard filed the negligence suit against the care facility in February 2016. The lawsuit states that staff at Wesley Residence was negligent in failing to adequately secure the building and allowing Gerard to leave unattended, in violation of established care policies.

Dale Gerard was 74 and living when dementia when she left the Wesley Residence in July 2013. After months of searching, her remains were found in the Lincoln Park neighborhood in April 2014. She had been seen getting off a bus in that area. She was three miles from her home.

Andrew Gross, a Twin Cities attorney representing the Gerard family, called the ruling an “important victory” and said it will narrow the scope of the issues a jury will be asked to decide at trial. With the ruling, Gross said, the jury will essentially be left to decide whether Wesley Residence was negligent in allowing Gerard to leave — and, if so, the damages that are warranted.

Robyn Johnson, a Twin Cities attorney for Wesley Residence and Hermantown-based parent company At Home Living Facilities, did not respond to a request for comment.

The suit alleges that Gerard required care for “wandering, orientation issues, anxiety, verbal aggression, physical aggression, repetitive behavior, agitation, self-injurious behavior and property destruction.” Family members had worked on a service plan and Gerard wore a tracking device. But she had learned how to disable the device, and was wearing it when her body was found.

The Minnesota Department of Health didn’t file any sanctions against Wesley Residence, finding that Gerard was her “own guardian” and that it was “unclear how and why the client left against medical and family advice.” Source: Duluth News-Tribune


Accessibility eyed in bike plans

As Minneapolis’ network of bicycle lanes grows, how is disability access to streets and sidewalks handled? City leaders are looking carefully at balancing the various interests as streets convert motor vehicle lanes into space for bikes.

The shift, following the city’s adoption of the “Complete Streets” policy in 2016, has fanned the debate between cyclists, drivers, residents and business owners about safety, traffic congestion and lost parking in front of shops and homes.

But there’s another concern: How can people with disabilities navigate these new streets safely?

“Before, people could deploy their lifts and ramps onto a sidewalk or boulevard — now, they’re deploying them into the street and into the bike lane,” said Margot Imdieke Cross, accessibility specialist at the Minnesota State Council on Disability. Access is particularly challenging when bike lanes are protected from cars by poles or curbs.

Protected bike lanes are gaining favor in Minneapolis and across the country because they are safer for cyclists. But the protection, in the forms of curbs or bollards, can create access issues.

In Minneapolis, the plan is to consider adding bicycle infrastructure when streets come up for repair, such as resurfacing or reconstruction. Bike lane work is evolving as new designs and practices emerge, said Jenifer Hager, director of transportation planning and programming in public works.

The Federal Highway Administration released a design and planning guide, with input from cities including Minneapolis, for protected bike lanes in 2015, with suggestions for how to preserve accessibility including buffers to accommodate wheelchair lifts and mid-block curb ramps. Imdieke Cross said she’d like to see more accessibility accommodations such as buffers and mid-block curb ramps included in bike lane projects here. If the city doesn’t provide adequate access, she said, that could be a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Access is required by law,” she said. “Bike lanes aren’t.” Parking can also be an issue for people with disabilities. Eight bike lane projects planned for this summer will cut parking spaces to make room for bike lanes, whether they’re protected or just painted on the street. Source: Star Tribune


AARP gives state good marks

Minnesota’s number two ranking in the AARP Long-term Services and Supports State Scorecard for older adults and people with disabilities continues to show the state’s strong leadership in providing services to those populations where and how they choose.

“Although Minnesota has enjoyed ranking number one on the scorecard the first two times it was issued, in 2011 and 2014, we are pleased to know that AARP considers Minnesota and Washington to be leading all of the 50 states with its long-term services and supports for older adults and people with disabilities,” Minnesota Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper said. “This is a result of Minnesota putting emphasis on services in people’s homes and communities, offering information so consumers can make informed choices, rewarding quality care and considering the needs of vital family caregivers.”

The scorecard ranks states based on their performance on long-term services and supports in affordability and access, choice of setting and provider, quality of life and quality of care, support for family caregivers and effective transitions between nursing homes, hospitals and homes.

AARP said the scorecards published in 2011, 2014 and 2017 all have somewhat different methodologies and indicator sets, due primarily to changes in data availability.

With baby boomers beginning to turn 80 in 2026, states must accelerate the pace of improving long-term services and supports for older adults and people with disabilities, AARP said. While the scorecard shows that most states have made progress, the scorecard shows that “the pace of change overall remains too slow and has not kept up with demographic demands.” Source: Minnesota DHS


St. David’s Center expands

St. David’s Center is expanding its services, including children’s mental health and autism programs, to downtown Minneapolis. Programs will be offered as part of Westminster Presbyterian Church’s expansion project.

The new building will offer early childhood mental health services, pediatric therapies, a day treatment program for children who have faced trauma, and the East African Autism day treatment program, which was previously located in northeast Minneapolis.

At an event marking the expansion, St. David’s Center CEO Julie Sjordal spoke about the critical need to invest in children and families. St. David’s is based in Minnetonka and offers serves around the region.  The new center will serve about 200 children up to five years of age and their parents. Clients are expected to be from Minneapolis and surrounding communities.

The church expansion is already underway. It will create a 9,000-square-foot, $4.5 million building. It is to open in spring 2018. The space is just off of Nicollet Mall and is praised for its accessibility. Located off Nicollet Mall, the center counts that accessibility as a huge advantage, leaders said.

Jennifer DeCubellis, deputy administrator for Hennepin County Health and Human Services, said families in the East African autism day treatment program won’t have nearly as far to travel when the new center opens.

The church and St. David’s have worked together since 2016.


Access Press welcomes your news

Access Press welcomes articles for its People and Places pages. Articles may cover a wide range of topics. Disability organizations and businesses are welcomed to send submissions. Deadline is the 25th of the month for publication the following month.

Here is a sampling of the type of news our editors wish to see. Has someone won an award or a grant? Did the board of directors get new members? Has an organization hired a new leader to replace the current leader? Is the current leader retiring after many years? Is a group moving or expanding its locations?

Look at the newspaper or its website for an idea of the types of articles that appear in People and Places.

The editors will consider articles that have already appeared in an organization’s newsletter or articles that have appeared in other newspapers.

Photos are also welcomed. People and Places is also a place in the newspaper where photos of events can be sent, if the photos are sent for publication in the month after the event was held. These photos are appreciated because the newspaper staff cannot always get to community events.

Photos need to be of a large enough size to reproduce for print media. Taking photos off of Facebook or a website doesn’t always work because those photos can be too small to reproduce properly.

If photos are taken of vulnerable adults or children, please make sure permission has been obtained to release photos. The editors will ask to see release forms. With photos, please send caption information: who, what, when, where, why and how.

Questions? Email [email protected] and the newspaper editors will respond. Or call 651-644-2133.



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