Agreements reached with schools
The Minnesota Department of Human Rights has reached agreements with nine more school districts and charter schools to reduce disparities in suspensions for students with disabilities, American Indian students and students of color. This brings the total to 20 districts and charter schools.
The latest agreements were reached with Bemidji Public Schools, Columbia Heights Public Schools, Hopkins Public Schools, Minnesota Transitions Charter School, Prodeo Academy, Onamia Public Schools, Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan/District 196, St. Paul Public Schools and Winona Public Schools.
“I want to thank these educators for their willingness to tackle this issue headon,” said Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsey. “These leaders should be commended for working to reduce suspension disparities for students with disabilities and students of color while maintaining safe environments for all. These efforts will help build a stronger Minnesota that is ready to embrace the dramatic demographic changes in our near future as our population ages and becomes more diverse.”
The three-year agreements are unique to each school district or charter school, to redirect student behavior, support staff, and communicate with their community. Parents, students, school personnel and the educational community will be given meaningful opportunities to provide feedback and qualitative assessment of practices and policies. Diversion committees will be offered to facilitate sharing best practices on reducing suspension, cultural competency, and increasing student engagement.
There will also be improved data collection, training practices, discipline policies, and behavior management strategies will be consistently implemented, and semiannual reports to the department detailing efforts to implement their plan.
None of the agreements prohibit suspensions. Nor will the work affect student discipline resulting from behavior causing safety concerns, such as fighting, student possession of weapons, or illegal drugs. But for other behavior, suspension should only be a last resort.
The largest district in the latest round of agreements is in the capital city. “St. Paul Public Schools will continue its work to reduce suspensions and expulsions for students of color, American Indian students, and those with disabilities.
The district also welcomes the opportunity to continue to collaborate with others to explore solutions for these complex and statewide issues,” said Dr. Joe Gothard, superintendent. (Source: Minnesota Department of Human Rights)
County tries Lyft option
In Dakota County, people with disabilities are trying a different option for transportation. The pilot project involves contracting with the ride-sharing service Lyft. The contract will allow Lyft to bill the county for rides, within restrictions on the number of rides per month, county officials said. The project is funded with a $100,000 state grant.
“People want to work that have disabilities, but in Dakota County in particular, transportation is a big barrier to getting to your job,” said Megan Zeilinger, the county’s employment services manager. Many people aren’t able to contract with Metro Mobility for rides.
Dakota County officials said that the program, which begins this summer, gives people with disabilities increased independence and saves them time. With reliable transportation, many participants will be able to increase their hours or even rejoin the workforce, Zeilinger said.
Dakota County’s ride-sharing project is the first in the state to work with local government, said Noel Shughart, Minnesota Department of Transportation transit planner. It’s expected to serve 500 adults with disabilities by 2019, and state officials hope to replicate it elsewhere.
Some disability advocates and potential riders point out possible problems, including safety concerns. Kathy Sutherland said her son Grant, 23, who has autism, worries about the backgrounds of the new drivers picking him up every day. “He’s nervous about a stranger hurting him,” she said.
In other cities, Lyft has faced complaints about its service to people with disabilities.
Dakota County officials said they chose Lyft over ride-sharing competitor Uber because of its strong customer service and, they believe, more robust background checks for drivers. (Source: Star Tribune)
Center in full compliance
After two recent unannounced inspections by federal regulators, Anoka-Metro Regional Treatment Center has returned to full compliance with federal rules for hospital operations and patient care. The state-operated psychiatric hospital in Anoka treats patients with complex mental illnesses and behavioral health conditions.
Improvements focused on patient rights, nursing services, treatment planning, quality assurance and performance improvement. Implementation involved changing a wide variety of policies and practices.
“The entire team at Anoka-Metro Regional Treatment Center has worked hard to bring about this crucial turnaround for patients, their families and the staff,” said Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) Commissioner Emily Piper. “We’ve been focused on changing the way we do things. In a very challenging environment, we are on the right track.”
Three separate investigations in 2015 found the Anoka hospital out of compliance with one or more federal regulations related to patient care and hospital operations. To correct the deficiencies and avoid losing federal funding, the facility and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services entered into a systems improvement agreement to bring the hospital into compliance.
After determining that the hospital successfully completed the systems improvement agreement, CMS will drop an earlier decision that would have blocked the hospital from billing Medicare and Medicaid.
The Anoka hospital worked with outside consultants approved by the federal regulators, Efforts were made to increase patient capacity at Anoka-Metro Regional Treatment Center and to attract and retain employees at the facility and six Community Behavioral Health Hospitals, which together make up Minnesota’s system for patients with the most severe mental health issues. Increased state funding has also led to improvements. (Source: DHS)
Centers lack oversight
The state agency responsible for protecting vulnerable adults failed to provide adequate oversight over 20 Minnesota adult day centers, which contributed to numerous health and safety violations. Problems were disclosed in a federal audit released recently by the Office of Inspector General for the federal Department of Health and Human Services. Federal inspectors made unannounced visits to the adult day centers in early 2017. It was found that all 20 of the centers reviewed failed to comply with state licensing requirements.
Overall, the agency found 200 violations of health, safety and administrative requirements at the adult day centers, which primarily serve seniors and adults with disabilities.
Violations ranged in severity from peeling paint and loose plaster to hazardous chemicals and a knife left out in the open and easily accessible to clients. The federal inspectors found 81 instances of noncompliance with health and safety requirements, as well as multiple violations of state record-keeping and background study requirements.
The federal audit was focused on adult day centers that serve older Minnesotans enrolled in Medicaid’s Elderly Waiver program, which helps low-income seniors live more independently by paying for certain services, such as those provided in the day centers.
Roberta Ophanim, the state ombudsman for mental health and developmental disabilities, said the federal audit report raises broader concerns about the state’s oversight of adult day centers, which offer social activities, meals and a range of other activities to thousands of older adults across the state.
A staff shortage at the state level prevented the agency from performing routine inspections of the centers, including re-licensing visits every two years, the report said.
The audit comes as DHS, the state’s largest agency, faces widening questions over its oversight of state-licensed programs that serve tens of thousands of vulnerable Minnesotans, including children, seniors and people with disabilities.
In response to the audit report, DHS Inspector General Carolyn Ham called the violations identified in the report “very concerning.” Since the audit, her office has taken action to hold the centers accountable, by conducting licensing inspections at the 20 day centers. Two programs closed, and a dozen others received correction orders. (Source: Star Tribune)
Volunteers fix wheelchairs
The World Health Organization has estimated that there are 65 million people worldwide that need a wheelchair because of a disability but don’t have one. Gregg Olson of Mankato is one of a couple dozen Minnesota volunteers in Minnesota working to change that need.
Olson collects and stores no longer needed wheelchairs on his farm for shipment to countries such as Uganda, El Salvador and Ukraine. Nursing homes in the Mankato area donated old chairs to his cause.
“When the individual passes away, the family doesn’t need them — they don’t know what to do with them,” he said. “They just accumulate.”
The wheelchairs he collects are as diverse as the people who need them. “It’s amazing the different styles and youth chairs,” he said. “There’s a need for every single one of them.”
Olson said he began collecting the wheelchairs after hearing Joni Eareckson Tada speaking about her charity organization, Joni and Friends. A diving accident in 1967 left her quadriplegic and requiring a wheelchair for mobility.
Since being established, Joni and Friends has collected 188,000 wheelchairs. About 150,000 were shipped abroad since 1994 with the remainder used for parts. In Minnesota, volunteers plan to collect 5,000 wheelchairs by 2020.
Minnesota State University graduate Tiffany Carlson also volunteers for the organization. “I’ve had 15-20 collapsible wheelchairs and then I can get a lot of walkers in there,” Carlson said. “I’ve gotten several from nursing homes. I contact their maintenance department and ask them if they have any old wheelchairs that nobody is using.” (Source: Mankato Free Press)
MNLARS problems continuing
Minnesota’s beleaguered computer system for vehicle titles and tabs won’t be fixed before the agencies responsible for it run out of money. Money to fix the troubled system was vetoed this spring when Gov. Mark Dayton rejected a supplemental budget bill.
State officials are continuing to scrutinize the system, known as MNLARS. They were told in June that without money to fix problems, the earliest any fixes could take place is after the Minnesota Legislature meets in 2019. State workers and contractors are scrambling to fix the highest-priority things. But it’s unclear which problems will be fixed, and which will be left until funding becomes available.
One struggle is for those who need disability license plates, Transferring specialized license plates, including wheelchair-emblazoned plates for the disabled, is still not possible. People who want or need such plates can still get them, but they have to be new plates. Sometimes this means paying more.
Dana Bailey, executive director of projects and initiatives for MNIT, Minnesota’s information technology department, said that she doesn’t know when this will be changed — or if it will be done before the money runs out.
License center workers still can’t fix mistakes they catch while double-checking their work. The new upgrade helps this: License center workers can call a “liaison,” a state worker at the Department of Public Safety’s Driver and Vehicle Services Division, and the liaison can correct the error immediately. However, that call can include hold times of half an hour — and the worker and the customer just have to stand there and wait. License center workers — often known as deputy registrars — have been asking for this editing ability since the system was first launched, but they haven’t gotten it. (Source: Pioneer Press)