Regional News in Review – June 2015

State takes control of two nursing homes The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has assumed control of two nursing homes, in […]

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State takes control of two nursing homes

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has assumed control of two nursing homes, in Faribault and Owatonna. The action was taken to protect the well-being of nursing home residents.

The owners of the Faribault Care Center, which has 52 residents, and the Owatonna Care center, which has 36 residents, were unable to financially support the facilities. Property owner Omega Health Care Investors and operator Deseret Health Group met with state officials this spring. A court was asked to hand over control of the facilities.

MDH will make sure residents receive proper care, and that the employees keep their jobs and are paid. State law allows the facilities to be under state receivership for up to 18 months. The state takes over and assumes control of finances until a new facility owner can be found, or the residents are relocated. MDH Commissioner Edward Ehlinger described the step as a “last resort.” He assured family members that home residents will be well taken care of while the situation is resolved. (Source: Minnesota Department of Health)



Skyway connection is open again

A downtown St. Paul skyway and elevator are open again at normal operating hours, after complaints were made about accessibility. The connection, which is owned by Metro Transit and is by the Green Line light rail station, had its hours shortened starting in early February.

The hours were shortened because downtown residents and business owners complained that there were problems with loitering and bad behavior. That drew protests from people with disabilities, who had to sometimes travel long distances to find ways to get in and out of the downtown skyway system. Many people with disabilities including downtown resident and recently retired Advocating Change Together leader Rick Cardenas challenged the shortened hours, as they had been among those working to get the elevator
link built.

Cardenas recently contacted the Metropolitan Council, which oversees Metro Transit, to let them know how the shortened hours had caused inconvenience for him and others Metro Transit, for its part, has agreed to monitor the situation and look for other ways to make the skyway system safer. (Source: Pioneer Press)



State takes action against Savers0

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson has taken action against the international thrift store chain Savers. Swanson sued the chain May 22 in Hennepin County District Court. Swanson contends that Savers is misleading the public about the percentage of proceeds from donated items which actually go to charity.

Savers collects and sells items for charities including the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota and Disabled American Veterans. Three other charities, including groups serving people with disabilities, have cut their ties to Savers. Those groups pulled out in 2014 after Swanson released a report very critical of Savers and its partner charities.

Swanson contends that Savers has committed eight violations of charities law. At a news conference announcing the lawsuit, Swanson was joined by people who had made donations to Savers, thinking they had helped charities and people with disabilities. One woman donated an expensive power wheelchair, thinking it would go to a veteran. Others said they donated to trucks and bins labeled for the specific charitable groups.

Savers, which is based in Washington state, promotes itself as the nation’s largest thrift store chain, Company officials said they are changing their practices and taking steps to address issues raised previously by Swanson. (Source: KSTP-TV, Star Tribune)



Lawsuits filed over access

Businesses in the Minnesota community of Marshall have claimed businesses don’t provide access to persons with disabilities. Nine lawsuits have been filed so far by the Disability Support Alliance, a nonprofit group formed last summer, including one against the only bowling alley in town. The owner said he will soon close rather than pay the DSA’s $5,500 settlement offer or make the $20,000 of changes needed to comply with the Americans with Disabilities (ADA).

Business owners now are working with the local Chamber of Commerce and the Minnesota State Council on Disability. They prepared an access audit for local businesses, allowing them to develop a plan to fix ADA issues and potentially to ward off litigation. The plan has won the attention of the state Department of Human Rights, which hopes it could be used in other communities hit by serial litigation.

The alliance works with attorney Paul Hansmeier, who has filed nearly 60 ADA suits in Minnesota. Disability advocates contend that the access lawsuits are more about winning cash settlements than making changes that would add ramps, widen aisles and allow wheelchair access.

“If someone’s going to get mad for not following the law, I don’t know how to respond to it,” Hansmeier said to the Star Tribune.

Hansmeier has been sanctioned across the country for his involvement in a separate series of lawsuits. One case involved suing 16,000 men, accusing them of illegally downloading copyrighted porn. The suits threatened to publicly name the men unless they settled, a tactic that netted “a little less than” $15 million, according to published reports

Hansmeier registered the Disability Support Alliance in Minnesota in July 2014 and listed himself as the nonprofit’s agent. (Source: Star Tribune)



Fifth graders make a difference

Five fifth grade boys at Franklin Elementary School in Mankato have been making a positive difference in the life of a schoolmate. The boys befriended James Willmert after the saw him being picked on. Willmert has a learning disability.

“Why pick on someone,” Jack Pemble begins to ask, as Jake Burgess finishes his question, “who has special needs?” The boys and their friends Gus Gartzke, Tyler Jones and Landon Kopischke befriended Willmert after seeing him picked upon. They eat lunch with him, include him at recess and help him with tasks including opening food bags and tying shoes.

“It really kind of makes you proud to be their teacher,” said Mallory Howk, who has spent the year with the five boys in her fifth grade class. Howk believes the school’s anti-bullying lessons must have struck a chord with the boys, but their kindness has gone beyond even her expectations.

“He used to not want to go out for recess or anything, it would be like a struggle,” said Margi Willmert, James’ mom. “And now he can barely eat his lunch to get outside to play with those guys.” The boys also helped their friend get a video game system and play station. And for the first time, Willmert had friends over to play, at his house.  (Source: KARE 11 News)


Mansion-turned-hotel approved

A St. Paul Summit Avenue mansion’s next incarnation as a boutique hotel will finally move ahead this spring after months of uncertainty over exterior changes. Developer John Rupp won St. Paul Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC) approval April 23 for building exterior changes to 344 Summit Ave., the Watson P. Davidson House. The house, built between
1915 and 1921, is in the Historic Hill District.

The commission split on approving the plans and needed building permit, with some commissioners favoring what Rupp brought forward and others arguing that a staff recommended-design be followed instead. One of the issues of debate was disability access and how that should be handled. Rupp, who has a family member who uses a wheelchair, wanted a ramp in front. He objected to suggestions that a rear entrance or temporary ramp be used.

The mansion has doors on three sides but those are either narrow or have obstacles such as steps or lack of interior space to turn a wheelchair around in. At issue before the HPC was how exterior changes should be made. The HPC asked Rupp to obtain a written evaluation by a preservation architect, showing that all possible routes for access have been explored.

The building needs considerable work before it can become a hotel. An opening date hasn’t been set. The hotel will host guests for up to a year. It will not host events or have food service facilities. Food service and other services will be provided by the nearby University Club, which Rupp also owns and operates. (Source: Villager Newspaper)




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