Regional News in Review - March 2012

Talking computer is recovered

A woman with traumatic brain injury and her family got an early Valentine Feb. 13 with the recovery of her $7,800 computer. The computer was taken off of the Swenson family’s doorstep the week before. A neighbor found it about four blocks away. He returned it to the family.

Vicki Swenson called the recovery “a miracle.” Her 38-year-old daughter, Lynda Swenson, uses the device to communicate because she is unable to speak. Lynda Swenson was seriously injured in a 1979 auto accident. She was only six years old at the time. She can walk short distances with a transfer belt. She uses a wheelchair to travel longer distances. Because she cannot speak, the computer does the talking for her.

The man who found the computer turned it on after finding it, causing the machine to state “My name is Lynda Swenson.” The family’s address then appeared. Just before a bus came to their home Feb. 10 to take Lynda Swenson to Midwest Special Services in St. Paul, her mother set down a bag containing the computer outside the house. The computer is heavy and hard to manage when the mother is helping her daughter. The computer sat outside unattended for a brief time and was stolen. St. Paul Police are still looking for the thief or thieves. [Source: Pioneer Press, KSTP-TV]


Staff member blamed in death

A Brooklyn Park group home’s lone overnight staff member slept while a resident wandered away and was found dead in a nearby pond. A report released Feb. 28 by the Minnesota Department of Health makes a finding of neglect against Evensong Manor.

Virginia Glauber, 72, was found face down in the pond July 14. The Minneapolis native had schizophrenia and depression. The state report indicated Glauber would attempt to leave the home and was required to have 24-hour supervision. Evensong’s owner told state officials that Glauber wasn’t making as many attempts to leave, so staff could sleep. She had spent the day before her death reading on the home’s deck and had previously gone for unsupervised walks.

The lone staffer, an unlicensed care giver, slept on the couch while Glauber left the home between 1 and 7 a.m. July 13, according to the report.

Two state licensing orders were issued against the home involving supervision and the assessment that Glauber was a good fit for a group home setting rather than being institutionalized. The facility owner has challenged the findings. But the six-bed home has stopped accepting residents who require 24-hour supervision. [Source: Star Tribune]


Hockey player is back in school

Injured St. Croix Lutheran High School hockey player Jenna Privette, one of two Minnesota teens injured this season in hockey accidents, has been released from the hospital and was expected to return to school in late February. Her CaringBridge website shared the news.

Privette suffered a serious spinal cord injury in a game in January. She and Jake Jablonski were injured within several days of each other. Jablonski’s injuries are more serious and he continues with rehabilitation. Privette left Gillette Children’s Hospital in St. Paul Feb. 24. She has regained feeling in her thighs and can walk on her knees. She was able to wheel herself around and use a walker to walk out and get into a motor vehicle.

The senior athlete had been receiving inpatient physical therapy and rehabilitative care since the Jan. 6 injury, which left her paralyzed from the waist down. She will continue physical therapy on an outpatient basis. Her injury has been described as a “spinal concussion.”

A pancake breakfast for Privette will be held from 8 to 10 a.m. March 31 at the Applebee’s restaurants in Eagan and Inver Grove Heights. Tickets are $15, and Thrivent Financial for Lutherans will match up to $1,000 collected. [Source: Pioneer Press]


Did Bank of America discriminate?

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has announced that it is charging Bank of America with discriminating against homebuyers with disabilities. HUD alleges that Bank of America imposed unnecessary and burdensome requirements on borrowers who relied on disability income to qualify for their home loans and required some disabled borrowers to provide physician statements to qualify for home mortgage loans.

The federal Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to discriminate in the terms and conditions of a loan to an individual based on a disability, including imposing different application or qualification criteria, and makes it illegal to inquire about the nature or severity of a disability except in limited circumstances not applicable here.

“Holding homebuyers with disabilities to a higher standard just because they rely on disability payments as a source of income is against the law,” said John Trasviña, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “Mortgage companies may verify income and have eligibility standards but they may not single out homebuyers with disabilities to delay or deny financing when they are otherwise eligible.” HUD’s charge is based on a “secretary-initiated investigation,” and the investigation of complaints filed by two individual borrowers in Michigan and one borrower in Wisconsin who claimed that Bank of America required them to provide personal medical information and documentation regarding their disability and proof of continuance of their Social Security payment in order to qualify for a home mortgage loan. The charge is also being issued as part of the work being conducted by the Federal Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force’s non-discrimination working group.

According to HUD’s charge, Bank of America allegedly asked some borrowers for proof of their disabilities and sought evidence of the continuation of their Social Security income before approving loans, after first denying them. The matter will now be handled by the Department of Justice. FHEO and its partners in the Fair Housing Assistance Program investigate approximately 10,000 housing discrimination complaints annually. People who believe they are the victims of housing discrimination should contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777 (voice), (800) 927-9275 (TTY). [Source: HUD]


Family accused of neglecting son

A Lakeville mother and father await sentencing on charges they neglected their developmentally disabled 7-year-old son. Police found the boy in January 2011 in squalid conditions, after a search warrant was executed at the family home. The boy was wearing a soiled diaper and had sores on his head and body.

The father, Andrew David Worcester, 32, pleaded guilty in late February to gross misdemeanor child neglect. The boy’s mother, Delilah Dawn Worcester, 31, entered an Alford plea, admitting there was sufficient evidence to find her guilty of an identical charge.

The couple is scheduled for sentencing April 18.

Each faces up to a year in jail for child neglect. While searching the couple’s townhome, police reported a strong smell of urine. The couple’s three daughters, who were ages 3, 4 and 11 at the time, also were living in the residence. The children were placed in foster care, court records showed. The family also had 12 animals living in the home.

The mother reportedly overmedicated the boy with laxatives and sought out an unneeded abdominal surgery for him, the petition said. [Source: Pioneer Press]


Radio segment is criticized

A segment on a syndicated radio show aired in Duluth is being decried by some residents as insensitive and offensive to people with cognitive disabilities. The segment, part of the Dallas-based “Lex and Terry Show,” involves asking a panel of “contestants” questions to determine which one is “mentally challenged.”

JoAnn Bauers, who said she doesn’t ordinarily listen to the program or the station, KZIO 94.1, happened upon it as she was driving to work recently. “I really feel like a line was crossed,” said Bauers, who was unimpressed by the argument that the bit was a parody. “Sure, ‘Saturday Night Live’ would do a parody about Sarah Palin, but would they do a parody on her disabled child? I found it extremely offensive.”

Bauers told co-worker Kathy Anderson about the segment. It touched a nerve with Anderson, whose 21- year-old daughter is afflicted with San Fillipo syndrome, a rare disease that is characterized by progressive intellectual decline, among other symptoms. “To me this is so insensitive and so offensive to say, ‘Pick the mentally challenged person in this group’ by the way they talk,” Anderson said.

The show’s content is particularly disturbing in light of the current Un-Fair Campaign in Duluth against racial discrimination, Anderson said. Mocking people with cognitive disabilities is just as offensive as racism, she said, and it disparages people who often don’t have a voice to speak for themselves.

“It’s really unfortunate that people will listen to that,” said Roberta Cich, director of the Duluth branch of the Center for Independent Living of Northeastern Minnesota and a member of the Duluth Commission on Disabilities. “It’s all funny until it hits home.”

Calls to Red Rock Radio Corp., which owns KZIO 94.1—known as 94X—weren’t returned on Wednesday. An e-mail sent to the Lex and Terry Show wasn’t answered. [Source: Duluth News-Tribune]


Six autism treatment centers audited

State officials are launching an audit of six Minnesota autism treatment centers to find out if they’ve been properly billing the government for millions of dollars in children’s therapy. The audit should determine why a handful of treatment programs have been charging Medicaid tens of thousands of dollars more, per child, than their competitors, Anne Barry, deputy commissioner of the Department of Human Services, told the Star Tribune

“We have to look deeper because we’re not satisfied with the answers we’re getting right now,” Barry said.

The agency has sent audit notices to five programs that specialize in ABA: the Lovaas Center, Behavioral Dimensions, Minnesota Autism Center, the Lazarus Project, and the Rochester Center for Autism. It also sent a notice to the state’s largest autism treatment center, Fraser. Officials from the centers said they welcome the audit and believe their names will be cleared. But some advocates fear the state may cut off access to some of the most expensive, and intensive, autism treatments. Several autism centers said that more than half their clients get Medicaid funds.

“There are hundreds of kids who are going to be negatively affected right away if there’s a change,” said Amy Dawson, who runs the Autism Advocacy and Law Center in Minneapolis. She said many families have turned to the state to pay for intensive therapy because most private insurers won’t cover it.

The audit was triggered in part by 2011 Star Tribune reports that Medicaid paid an average of $36,000 per child for “skills training” at centers that specialize in an intensive treatment known as ABA (applied behavior analysis). The payments were roughly three times the state average for skills training.

The state insists it doesn’t cover ABA treatment itself—which can run up to 40 hours a week and cost $100,000 a year per child. But officials couldn’t explain why Medicaid did pay for hundreds of hours of “skills training” for children in ABA programs—an average of 770 hours in 2010, at a cost of $13.5 million.

By comparison, autistic children in Medicaid HMOs received 39 hours of skills training. Barry said the agency decided to launch the audit after conducting an initial review last year. “We looked for any kind of rationale or justification,”

Barry said, but couldn’t find anything “that would justify the differences.” She said the federal agency that oversees Medicaid—and pays half the program’s cost—has endorsed the audit. “ If it finds inappropriate payments, officials could move to recover the money. [Source: Star Tribune]


Claim is dismissed by court

Melanie Michael’s claim that Argosy University in Eagan failed to accommodate her learning disability was dismissed in district court last year. The Minnesota Court of Appeals weighed in in February and upheld the lower court decision.

Michael has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. She argued that the school did not give her extra time during lab exams. But Dakota County District Court Judge Patrice Sutherland dismissed claims in 2011 that Argosy violated the Minnesota Human Rights Acts by failing to accommodate Michael’s attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The district court found that the school’s policy is to simulate real-world lab scenarios, which do not allow for accommodations. The court also ruled that Michael failed to prove that time constraints were the reason she failed the exams. A three-judge panel of the appeals court then upheld that decision.

Michael was enrolled in the sonography program at Argosy. The school offers a variety of degrees and professional certificates at its campus in Eagan. [Source: Pioneer Press]


Seniors protest loss of pool

Senior citizens in the Edina area are protesting the possible loss of a shallow pool at the Edinborough Park pool complex. The shallow pool, which is used for exercise, is threatened by a possible redesign of the city-owned indoor water park. A consultant has proposed filling in the shallow pool space and reusing the area for children’s activities.

The suggestion has outraged people who use the pool for lap swimming and aerobics and stretching classes run by Edina Community Education. Many are seniors. They’ve flooded City Council members with letters of objection, and they’re vowing to keep up the campaign—and perhaps show up at a council meeting with their towels around their necks—until a decision on the pool’s future is made.

The park is unique in Edina and unusual for any city park, with its junior Olympic-sized pool, a running track lined by exercise equipment, multi-story play areas for kids, a 250-seat amphitheater and winding trails with little bridges that lead through grottoes shaded by more than 6,000 trees and plants. But its facilities are aging.

In 2012 the park is expected to generate less than $1.2 million in revenue while costing $1.6 million to operate. At a joint City Council-Park Board meeting in January, consultant Jeff King of Ballard King & Associates said that less than 4 percent of the park’s admissions were for fitness activities. King said that there’s a YMCA with a pool near the park. He said if the city wants to keep the Edinborough pool, it needs to be “multifunctional,” with slides and other attractions.

But seniors disagree, saying the pool meets their needs. Another discussion about the park’s future is planned for a council work session on March 20. [Source: Star Tribune]


Veterans with disabilities helped

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued two revised publications addressing veterans with disabilities and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Both documents are available on the agency’s website at www.eeoc.gov

The revised guides reflect changes to the law stemming from the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, which make it easier for veterans with a wide range of impairments— including those that are often not well understood— such as traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), to get needed reasonable accommodations that will enable them to work successfully.

Prior to the ADA Amendments Act, the ADA’s definition of the term “disability” had been construed narrowly, significantly limiting the law’s protections.

The revised documents are also an outgrowth of a public meeting the EEOC held on Nov. 16, 2011, entitled “Overcoming Barriers to the Employment of Veterans with Disabilities.” In that meeting, the commission heard testimony from a panel of experts on the unique needs of veterans with disabilities transitioning to civilian employment. The particular challenges faced by veterans with disabilities in obtaining employment has been the subject of increased attention in recent months, as large numbers of veterans return from service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Guide for Employers explains how protections for veterans with service-connected disabilities differ under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), and how employers can prevent disability-based discrimination and provide reasonable accommodations.

The Guide for Wounded Veterans answers questions that veterans with service-related disabilities may have about the protections they are entitled to when they seek to return to their former jobs or look for civilian jobs. The publication also explains the kinds of accommodations that may be necessary to help veterans with disabilities obtain and successfully maintain employment.

“We want veterans with disabilities to know that the EEOC has resources to assist them as they transition to, or move within the civilian workforce,” said EEOC Chair Jacqueline A. Berrien. “The release of these publications demonstrates our commitment to ensuring that veterans with disabilities receive the full protection of the laws we enforce, and that employers understand how to comply with those laws.” [Source: EEOC]

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