Regional News in Review - March 2016

Landlord wins access lawsuit

A St. Paul landlord has won a case against the Disability Support Alliance and its attorney, Paul Hansmeier. The late February ruling was the first federal court loss for the group, which has filed more than 100 similar lawsuits statewide. Business groups, some disability rights advocates, and elected officials have criticized the lawsuits, indicating that there are other ways to provide access.

The ruling against the Disability Support Alliance and Hansmeier also states that the plaintiffs must pay a portion of the legal costs incurred by the landlord, Heartwood Enterprises.

“Ultimately, the judge agreed with our case that Heartwood Enterprises does not treat individuals with disabilities any different than those without and that Heartwood did not violate federal or state law,” Heartwood’s attorney, Joseph M. Windler of Winthrop and Weinstein told the Star Tribune.

DSA member Eric Wong and the group filed suit 2015 because Heartwood’s office building on Grand Avenue didn’t have a ramp to its front door. In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Paul A. Magnuson said the DSA didn’t show that it was an ADA violation. The ADA says businesses must remove barriers to access when removal is “readily achievable.” Magnuson indicated that the plaintiffs didn’t prove that adding a ramp to Heartwood’s office met that standard.

In court documents, Heartwood officials suggested it could cost up to $100,000 for the ramp. Businesses in Heartwood’s building use a nearby accessible location to meet with clients with disabilities.

Hansmeier faces his woes, including the possibility of disbarment or suspension from the state board that investigates ethics complaints against Minnesota lawyers due to his behavior in other lawsuits. In December, a federal judge ordered the liquidation of Hansmeier’s assets after finding that Hansmeier sought bankruptcy protection to thwart his creditors. (Source: Star Tribune)

 

Crackdown on disability claims

A new team of agents is working in the Twin Cities to catch people fraudulently claiming disabilities to receive benefits. Social Security Administration investigators and agents with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension are working together to catch the likes of a football coach who stole almost $200,000 in benefits by claiming a disability and a man who faked having Alzheimer’s disease.

“Unfortunately, there are dishonest people out there,” local Social Security Special Agent Tracey Thanos told KSTP-TV.

In fiscal 2015, the Social Security’s Office of Inspector General said special task forces across the country led to the denial of more than 6,500 payments that saved more than $400 million.

In Minnesota, 1,259 fraud tips were reported to the Social Security office, while nationally there were more than 146,000 allegations during that same period.

Investigators want these new teams to spot and stop cases like one in Duluth sooner. In 2008, a man from that area appeared on a PBS segment on early-onset Alzheimer’s, where he shared his troubles with the disease. But he was found to have been faking the symptoms at a time when he was able to negotiate a property purchase, represent himself in a divorce proceeding and do other tasks. The man pleaded guilty in federal court to theft of government funds, was sentenced to 15 months in prison and was required to pay back $264,148.39 to the government and an insurance company. (Source: KSTP-TV)

 

Building planned for tenants with disabilities

Cornerstone Creek, a 45-unit, $12 million building is under construction in Golden Valley. It is set to open this fall and serve residents who have developmental disabilities. This type of complex is expected to be in higher demand as baby boomers age and parental caregivers age.

Disability advocates contend that housing for adults with developmental disabilities is becoming a national crisis as the United States sees its first generation of people who are developmentally disabled outlive their parents.

The Cornerstone Creek developer, Minnetonka-based Jewish Housing and Programming (J-HAP), estimates that 101,000 of the 135,000 developmentally disabled adults in the Twin Cities live at home. Nationally, it’s 6.75 million out of 9 million. Across the country, 25 percent of those caregivers are at least 60 years old, while another 40 percent are between the ages of 41 and 59.

Also, part of the problem is that living with relatives or in scattered group homes can contribute to a pervading sense of social and spiritual isolation for these young adults once they have completed their school years, according to J-HAP.

J-HAP is working with nonprofit builder Community Housing Development Corporation (CHDC) and UrbanWorks Architecture to design what they hope will be the replicable prototype of a new kind of supportive housing for young adults who are developmentally disabled.

J-HAP President and founder Linda Bialick said its innovations are numerous, but mostly, it’s an effort to combine the feeling and social community of apartment living with an availability of care. Residents can continue using the service providers they had at home rather than being restricted to the one supplied by the housing operator, which often the case with other types of supportive is housing. (Source: Star Tribune)

 

Greyhound must make changes

Under the terms of a consent decree filed by the Justice Department in February, Greyhound Lines Inc. will implement a series of systemic reforms to resolve allegations that it repeatedly violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Greyhound is the nation’s largest provider of intercity bus transportation.

Greyhound will pay $300,000 in compensation to passengers with disabilities identified by the department and will retain a claims administrator to compensate an uncapped number of additional passengers who have experienced disability discrimination. The consent decree, pending approval by the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware, has nationwide implications.

It resolves the department’s complaint that Greyhound engaged in a nationwide pattern or practice of violating the ADA by failing to provide full and equal transportation services to passengers with disabilities.

The alleged violations include failing to maintain accessibility features on its bus fleets such as lifts and securement devices, failing to provide passengers with disabilities assistance boarding and exiting buses at rest stops, and failing to allow customers traveling in wheelchairs to complete their reservations online.

“The ADA guarantees people with disabilities equal access to transportation services so that they can travel freely and enjoy autonomy,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The agreement marks a significant step toward fulfilling the promise of the ADA, and we applaud Greyhound for entering the consent decree.”

Also, the agreement mandates that Greyhound implements a series of systemic reforms; including hiring an ADA compliance manager; requiring all employees and contractors who may interact with the public to attend annual in-person training on the ADA. Also, ensuring that people with disabilities can make reservations for travel, and lodge disability-related requests, through its online booking system.

Individuals who experienced disability-related discrimination while traveling or attempting to travel on Greyhound buses during the previous three years may be eligible to receive a monetary award. To read the consent decree and complaint, visit www.ada.gov  (Source: U.S. Department of Justice)

 

Lifeworks leader to retire

Judy Lysne, president and chief executive officer of Lifeworks Services, a $65 million disability services nonprofit, has announced that she will retire at the end of 2016.

Lifeworks is based in Eagan. Founded in 1965, it serves more than 2,500 people with disabilities throughout the Twin Cities and in Mankato. It has centers in Apple Valley, Eagan, Hastings, Bloomington and Brooklyn Park, and works with 300 businesses that offer employment for people with disabilities.

Lysne joined Lifeworks as a preschool teacher in 1973. She has worked throughout the agency over the years, serving as a program coordinator, vice president of administration and co-president. She was named the president and CEO in 2000 and has held the top post since then.

“I am so grateful that this has been my life’s work, and what a joy it has been,” Lysne said in a news release announcing her retirement. “The changes I have witnessed in how people with disabilities are viewed and included in day-to-day life have been tremendously gratifying.” (Source: Pioneer Press)

 

Innovative reform initiative serves more than 340,000

The Integrated Health Partnerships (IHP), Minnesota’s groundbreaking approach to delivering quality health care more efficiently for low-income people, continues to grow across the state. It encompasses 19 provider groups and more than 340,000 enrollees in Medical Assistance, the state’s Medicaid program, MinnesotaCare, programs for residents who do not have access to affordable health care coverage.

“Our nation-leading Integrated Health Partnerships initiative shows that it’s possible to lower the cost of care while maintaining and improving quality of care for patients,” said Commissioner Emily Johnson Piper. “It’s encouraging to see such strong interest from providers across Minnesota, both those who are joining and those who are continuing to participate in this initiative.”

Three new provider groups joined the IHP initiative, including providers serving people in medically under-served or high-need areas, providers serving children with complex medical conditions, and providers serving rural areas in Greater Minnesota. Contracts with the three new provider groups began on Jan. 1.

Also this year, six Integrated Health Partnerships provider groups that helped launch the program in 2013 opted to continue for a second three-year cycle. North Memorial, one of the original suppliers, expanded its participation to include affiliate partners and clinics. With the addition of new provider systems and growth in the 16 provider groups who joined before 2016, the IHP now covers more than 340,000 Medical Assistance enrollees. This growth puts DHS well on its way to a goal of extending the IHP and comparable value-based reforms to half of all Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare enrollees – about 500,000 people – by the end of 2018.

The new providers include Allina Health, Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, and Integrity Health Network (IHN), a multispecialty independent practice association comprised of clinics and facilities throughout a mostly rural service areas. The IHP demonstration prioritizes the delivery of higher quality and lower cost health care, encouraging providers to focus on delivering efficient and effective health care and preventive services to reach mutually agreed upon health goals. In contrast, the traditional payment system pays providers for the volume of care they deliver, rather than the quality of care they provide. In the IHP model, providers who meet a threshold for savings are eligible for a share of the savings. The second year of participation, some providers also share the downside risk if costs are higher than projected.

The IHP initiative is a key component of a $45 million federal State Innovation Model grant which is helping to drive health care reform in Minnesota. (Source: Minnesota Department of Human Services)