Regional News in Review - May 2013

Families can try out travel

Travel can be stressful for anyone, but for children with autism, crowded airports and security screenings can be a difficult experience. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and Autism Society of Minnesota have launched a new program to help children and families prepare for air travel.

“We were really nervous about how the airport would go, it’s a lot of new things all in the same day,” Matt Nielsen told KARE-11 News. Two of Matt and Melissa’s four children, five-year-old Charlotte and two-year-old Elaine, were diagnosed with autism. The family follows a strict routine to help the children.

The training allows families to see how airport travel would work, without the travel. Families and children can face the sensory issues associated with travel and use that experience on a trip. Volunteers lead the families through every step in the airport process, from security, to finding their way through the crowds, and even practicing the boarding process and finding their seats. The Autism Society says it’s a helpful lesson not only for families, but for airport workers too.

Families interested in signing up for the monthly airport visits can sign up through the Autism Society of Minnesota’s website, or through Fraser, an autism services provider, at fraser.org (Source: KARE 11 News)

 

 

Backlog of cases alarms advocates

Minnesota regulators charged with protecting vulnerable adults have been falling behind in their duties.

The backlog of pending maltreatment investigations has doubled in the past four years. The agency responsible for looking into complaints has failed to report the problem to the Minnesota Legislature as the law requires. The situations alarms advocates who are demanding change.

The backlog of pending maltreatment investigations grew to 724 cases at the end of 2012, according to figures released by the Department of Human Services (DHS).

Roberta Opheim, a state consumer advocate for people in mental health and developmentally disabled programs, said the growing backlog is troubling.

“If the backlog is doubling, that means they are not doing the investigations they need to get done,” Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, who chairs a committee that oversees the agency’s budget, told the Star Tribune. “That means it’s going to cost more money because you presumably have to hire more investigators to do the job. It’s important to protect the well-being of the people in our care.”

DHS Inspector General Jerry Kerber said the growing backlog does not mean the agency is unable to protect vulnerable adults. He said investigators prioritize cases, taking the most serious allegations first; some cases that may be delayed are less urgent or do not involve an immediate threat to safety, he said.

But Kerber also said state officials hear from families of vulnerable adults and others who aren’t getting investigation results. The agency, he said, is meeting its statutory requirements by notifying those involved when investigations stretch on.

DHS is asking state lawmakers to restructure some licensing and monitoring functions in home- and community-based services. (Source: Star Tribune)

 

 

Student videos spotlight disabilities

One by one, students appear in the video they know their entire school will see. While teens tend to shun labels, these students willingly show theirs. Anoka High School students made the videos, in which they spoke openly about their disabilities. The video has helped educate everyone at the school.

“Before the movie, they, like, kids, wouldn’t even talk to me,” said ninth grader Jordan Peschong. “They said, ‘I didn’t even know you had a disability.’” He was injured while in child care years early, and sustained injuries from shaken baby syndrome. He is stressed in crowds and is bothered by loud noises.

Anoka special education teacher Ann Sarazin asked her students if they wanted to make the videos as a way of teaching others about disability. Working with members of the Anoka High School student council, the teens came up with the idea of a Disabilities Week at Anoka, where mainstream peers could learn about a different disability each day, and what it’s like to be a student living with a disability. The video was shown to the entire high school student body and met a very positive response. (Source: KARE 11 News)

 

 

Guilty plea in scooter accident

A Hibbing man has pleaded guilty in the traffic death of a 78-year-old man who was riding his mobility scooter on a road in northern Minnesota. Lyle White pleaded guilty April 23 in Itasca County court to criminal vehicular homicide. Court documents indicate that White drove his pickup over a hill in September 2012. The truck collided with Eugene Paul Zeroth of Princeton, who was riding a scooter.

Under a negotiated plea, White would receive a sentence of more than four years in prison. The prison sentence would be stayed and White would be placed on supervised probation for 10 years, with conditions. Those conditions include White serving a year in jail or six months in jail and a year on electronic home monitoring. Sentencing is set for June 24. (Source: WCCO TV)

 

 

Facility is under investigation

A Chisholm assisted living facility is under scrutiny by the Minnesota Department of Health. State officials began an investigation after a developmentally disabled man was found unresponsive in a urine-soaked chair. Documents related to the case were released in mid-April in the investigation of Hillcrest Terrace of Chisholm.

Reports indicate that the man, who is diabetic, had to be taken to the hospital after he was found unresponsive in his room earlier this year. The man’s care required that his blood sugar levels be monitored daily. But his blood sugar was found to be low, and he had a urinary tract infection. His room at the care facility was filthy and in disarray, with mold present.

The room also had a strong smell of enzymatic cleaner, which staff would pour onto the carpet straight from the bottle without diluting. The man has since returned to the facility and been given a new room. (Source: WCCO TV, Star Tribune)

 

 

Bankruptcy affects Scooter Store outlets

The Scooter Store, a Texas-based company that supplies power wheelchairs and scooters to people with limited mobility, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Last month’s bankruptcy filing in Delaware comes after federal agents raided the company’s South Texas headquarters earlier this year, and amid Congressional scrutiny of whether TV ads by The Scooter Store and a rival company target people who don’t need scooters, leading to hundreds of millions of dollars in unnecessary Medicare spending.

The Scooter Store has shed hundreds of jobs in recent months, with its workforce dwindling from about 2,400 down to about 300. The company’s bankruptcy filing cited changes in health care laws and government investigations as financial burdens. It listed assets between $1 million and $10 million, and liabilities between $50 million and $100 million.

Call to Minnesota outlets of The Scooter Store found disconnected numbers or messages stating that stores were operating with limited staff and not taking new orders. (Source: Associated Press, Access Press staff)