Regional News in Review – May 2018

Forest Lake leaders reject residential treatment facility A proposed $18 million psychiatric residential treatment facility won’t be able to locate […]

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Forest Lake leaders reject residential treatment facility

A proposed $18 million psychiatric residential treatment facility won’t be able to locate in Forest Lake. The Forest Lake City Council rejected Cambia Hill’s proposal to purchase Shadow Creek Stables and transform the property into a residential treatment facility.

Cambia Hills is part of the Hills Youth and Family Services in Duluth. The 60-bed facility would have served children ages 6 to 17 who suffer from mood disorders such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. But despite the critical need for the facility, the council voted 3-2 against a zoning text amendment that would have allowed the project to move ahead.

Dozens of people expressed support for the project, including Sue Aberderholden, executive director of National Alliance on Mental Illness Minnesota, and Charles Johnson, acting commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Services. Family members of children with mental health issues also spoke of the need for the project.

“Minnesota has not had the capacity to meet the needs of children and youth with serious and complex mental health conditions,” Johnson wrote in a letter to the council. “Cambia Hills is an important part of filling this gap.” City staff recommended the zoning change. But neighbors fought the project, as did Mayor Ben Winnick. Winnick said there were too many unanswered questions about the project. Another argument was potential loss of property taxes.

Jeff Bradt, president and the CEO of Hills Youth and Family Services, said the organization would not pursue legal action against the city. Instead a new site will be sought. “There isn’t time for that,” he said. “The state wants us to open by July 2019.” (Source: Pioneer Press)


Medical cannabis costs a worry

Medical cannabis has helped many people with specifics disabilities or those suffering chronic pain. But the costs and the unwillingness of some doctors to write prescriptions are issues state officials are looking at.

The Duluth News-Tribune looked into the issues and found that patients may find more difficulty obtaining medical marijuana certification at certain hospitals. Medical practitioners register with the state before they can prescribe medical cannabis. State officials get complaints about not being able to find a practitioner to certify a patient from all over Minnesota.

Finding a doctor can be one challenge. Income may also be a factor in holding down the number of participants from some parts of the state. The average monthly costs for medical cannabis is $150. But that can be after the costs of the first visit to certify a patient, another $200 state charge to place a patient on the registry, and then $50 every succeeding year. A patient must be recertified each year.

State data shows growth in the patient registry every month since the program started accepting patients in June 2015. The curve became steeper starting in August 2016, when intractable pain became a condition for which marijuana could be prescribed. As of March 31, 9,435 patients were enrolled and in active status in the registry, the Office of Medical Cannabis reported. That was up from 5,119 a year earlier. Nearly two out of three Minnesota patients who received medical marijuana are certified for intractable pain. This summer, autism will be added to the list of eligible conditions. (Source: Duluth News-Tribune)


Metro Mobility contract raises concerns

Some unionized Metro Mobility drivers oppose a proposed $31.8 million contract with a nonunion firm, saying it will lead to the loss of nearly 100 jobs. But the contract won Metropolitan Council approval April 25. The council, which operates Metro Mobility, said Maple Grove-based Transit Team ranked the highest in the competitive bidding process.

Metro Mobility is the federally mandated transportation service for riders with disabilities, who cannot use regular buses and trains. The five-year contract being considered by the council involves transporting people to adult da programs throughout the metro, part of services provided by Metro Mobility. The service is currently provided by Ohio-based First Transit, which employs unionized drivers.

The council is not required to hire companies that only employ unionized drivers. Its Transportation Committee recommended approval.

Bill Wedebrand, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 120, said he is concerned members will not be provided with health care and retirement benefits, should they be hired by the new company.

“Our concern for our members losing their employment is a very serious issue for us, but the potential negative impact to the ridership that utilizes this service is also a huge concern,” Wedebrand said. Many of the vulnerable clients who use the service have established relationships with drivers, and “consistency and continuity is very important,” he said.

Mike Richter, president of Transit Team, told the council’s Transportation Committee that the firm will try to hire as many existing drivers as possible “to smooth the transition.” The company offers annual pay increases, life insurance, free turkeys at Thanksgiving and holiday bonuses. The Teamsters union wants the council to review the bids again. (Source: Star Tribune)


Disability parking is lost

Since 2015, Minneapolis resident Patricia Fox has had a reserved parking space in front of her home because of her multiple sclerosis. But this year, her parking space will be moved to make way for a bike lane.

“[This] is the ultimate insult of someone who has trouble with mobility being vacated from a spot that helps them function in society by making way for able-bodied bikers,” Fox said.

Bike lane additions draw praise but also protests from residents, motorists and business owners who lose parking and driving lanes. The projects reinforce Minneapolis’ reputation as one of the nation’s most bike-friendly cities. The city added 75 miles of bike lanes between 2011 and 2017, and the 2011 Master Bicycle Plan identified $284 million in projects to be completed by 2040.

High-traffic corridors are priorities because they connect several schools, parks and libraries and are frequently the sites of car crashes, said Nathan Koster, city transportation planning manager. The lanes are seen as providing traffic calming and safety for pedestrians. Minneapolis street projects typically include crossing signals with audible timers, crosswalk markings, pedestrian ramps compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and a protected bike lane.

City staff said they have worked with affected residents to find accessible parking But Fox said moving her parking space across the street poses safety hazards. The MS that weakens her muscles can make crossing the street hazardous.

“If the parking spot is across the street, then I’d have to jaywalk because I don’t trust myself to not fall,” she said. “I have [fallen] before by walking down to the corner and crossing legally … I agree that bike lanes are a progressive idea, but I don’t agree with putting citizens in danger as a result of that.”

City officials describe the situation as one with “tradeoffs.” (Source: Star Tribune)


New school for special needs students

Construction is expected to get underway late this year on a $4.5 million school in Montevideo to serve special education students in west central Minnesota.

The city of Montevideo, its Economic Development Authority (EDA) and the Southwest West Central Service Cooperative signed a letter of understanding to construct the new special education facility. If all goes as planned the new school could welcome its first students in August 2019.

An 18,000-square-foot facility on city-owned property about one block north of Minnesota Highway 7 on the city’s east side is proposed. It will be designed to serve an expected enrollment of 30 to 40 students with special needs. The instruction will focus on students with autism, mental health and severe emotional and behavioral needs.

Southwest West Central Service Cooperative anticipates staffing the facility with up to 30 special education professionals. The cooperative provides services to schools, cities and other members in the 18 counties of southwest Minnesota. Its services to schools includes assistance in special education and professional development.

Montevideo’s EDA will finance, construct and own the facility and lease it to the Southwest West Central Service Cooperative. The lease revenues will be structured to retire the debt for the project, after which point the building may be owned by the cooperative, said Montevideo City Manager Steve Jones.

The project was undertaken after the Southwest West Central Cooperative completed a study to determine the need for a facility to serve special education students. The project not only meets an education need, it also has economic development benefits to Montevideo. Along with creating 30 new professional jobs in the community, the school will be purchasing services in the community. It will also provide special education services close to home for some Montevideo students, Jones said. (Source: West Central Tribune)


Family, school district clash over education

A family whose teenage daughter rarely attends school is at odds with St. Louis Park Public Schools over the student’s proper educational setting and supports. Thedispute is at the center of a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court this spring. The 16-year-old girl’s 133 IQ is in the 99th percentile. She routinely earns A+ grades on individual assignments, even in honors courses. But she struggles with anxiety and depression, often sleeps past noon and has had poor school attendance since ninth grade. She is behind in credits to graduate.


School district officials content that the girl’s parents had declined accommodations, such as an easier course load and a shorter school day. The parents have also rejected a special-education referral, saying it’s for “stupid kids.” Instead, the family sent the girl to a boarding school in another state.

But school district officials said the parents had a change of direction after learning the school district might have to pay for boarding school, if the girl is placed in special education.

One challenge is that the school district has been unable to evaluate the girl for various disabilities, due to low attendance. The school district determined the girl did not have a disability and did not qualify for special education services. The parents disagreed and hired four experts to testify at a special-education due-process hearing.

Administrative law judge James Mortenson sided with the family. He found the girl met criteria for two disabilities — emotional and behavioral disorders and other health disabilities — and was eligible for special services based on her poor attendance and being behind in credits. He ordered the district to pay for the family’s experts and provide the girl with one-on-one instruction with a special education teacher. The district is asking federal judge to overturn Mortenson’s decision. (Source: Pioneer Press)


Northwest Residence employee accused of rape

A woman with severe intellectual and physical disabilities was sexually assaulted by a male caregiver who worked the overnight shift at a Northwest Residence Inc. group home in Little Canada. It also appears that the group home may have violated state law requiring that concerns about abuse be immediately report.

Patrick Daniel Hackman, 27, of St. Paul, has admitted to law enforcement that he sexually assaulted the resident in March, according to a criminal complaint filed in Ramsey County District Court. Hackman has been charged with one felony count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct of a victim who is mentally impaired or physically helpless. He also has been disqualified by the Minnesota Department of Human Services from direct contact with vulnerable persons receiving services from state social service agencies.

The woman has quadriplegia and is nonverbal. It remains unclear if the victim was abused by Hackman previously, in large part because group home staff did not immediately report suspicions as required under Minnesota’s vulnerable adult law. Staff observed other instances where Hackman would go into the victim’s room and close the door. The criminal complaint said that staff found his behavior to be “highly unusual.” But employees failed to report, even throwing away what could have been evidence of sexual abuse.

A spokesman for Northeast Residence, a nonprofit based in White Bear Lake that operates 25 group homes in the Twin Cities metro area, told the Star Tribune that the organization has retrained its staff on policies and procedures regarding reporting suspected maltreatment.

This marks the second time this year that a male caregiver in a state-licensed group home has been charged with sexually assaulting vulnerable women. In January, a 58-year-old caregiver, Patrick Arthur Jansen, repeatedly assaulted two female residents at a Sauk Rapids group home.

In both assault cases, the male caregivers worked the overnight shift, which is when group home residents are particularly vulnerable, according to Roberta Opheim, the state ombudsman for mental health and developmental disabilities.

“When residents are alone and sleeping, that is by far their most vulnerable time,” Opheim said. “Group homes need to be far more sensitive to this fact and schedule staffing to minimize this kind of horrific occurrence.” (Source: Star Tribune)


Liberian caregivers fear deportation

Minnesota has the largest Liberian immigrant community in the United States. Many people have taken jobs as caregivers or medical professionals. But immigration changes could put the community at risk. That is raising flags for Liberians who have permanent residency as well as the skilled care facilities and personal care attendant agencies that employ many people from the African country.

“All immigrants, and Liberians in particular, are critical to our workforce,” said Nichole Mattson, an administrator with the Good Samaritan Society-Specialty Care Community. “Without them, we would not be able to fulfill our mission here. They have been influential in referring people to the health care field and new employees our way.”

Rev. James Nyebe Wilson II oversees a St. Paul church that will celebrate its 130th anniversary this October, but his mood these days is far from celebratory. The priest in charge of the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church on Van Buren Avenue said these are tense times for him and other members of Minnesota’s Liberian community, many of whom face removal to an impoverished West African nation they have not been back to in decades. Wilson is a U.S. citizen, as are his wife and two adult daughters. But he believes up to 4,000 Liberians with a more temporary status could be forced to leave by March 2019.

President Donald Trump has declined to renew a long-standing immigration policy that has allowed thousands of Liberians to remain in the U.S. almost since the onset of the nation’s civil war more than 28 years ago. With their temporary protected status expiring within a year, entire families may be uprooted.

Labor organizers with SEIU Healthcare Minnesota say several nursing home management companies — whom they’ve sometimes tangled with on labor issues — are considering working with them on a joint advocacy campaign, though nothing is finalized. (Source: Pioneer Press)


City poised to finally approve accessibility plan

More than 20 years after a deadline to make St. Paul parks accessible to people with disabilities, the city of St. Paul has put together a multimillion-dollar plan to rebuild a recreation center, replace entry doors and otherwise bring its parks system into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Though the department has made accessibility improvements to buildings and facilities for years, an ADA transition plan to identify all the modifications needed for compliance wasn’t approved until this year.

“We, I believe, ought to have had this plan by about 1992,” Deputy Parks and Recreation Director Kathy Korum told the Parks and Recreation Commission in April. “We didn’t, but we do now.”

The plan identifies 33 projects that will cost more than $150,000, plus staff time, to be completed between 2018 and 2025. They range from installing a $25 Braille elevator sign at North Dale Recreation Center to replacing automatic entry doors at the Como Visitor Center for $66,325.

The list also includes two large-scale projects that have been in the works for years: the $11 million rebuild of the 45-year-old Scheffer Recreation Center and the nearly $20 million renovation of the Como Zoo seal and sea lion exhibit.

The parks department is up for re-accreditation this year, a process that for the first time requires a Disabilities Act transition plan. That’s why the department is acting now, Korum said.

Staff members at each of the city’s recreation centers completed accessibility assessments last fall, and their findings were incorporated into the plan, Korum said. More facility assessments are planned for the spring and summer, and the plan will be updated accordingly. (Source: Star Tribune)


Counties are part of partnership

The University of Minnesota’s Resilient Communities Project (RCP) has announced that Ramsey County and Scott County have been selected as its community partners for the 2018–2019 academic year. Due to both finalists’ strong proposals, it marks the first time in its six-year history the program will assist two partners in a given year.

RCP, housed within the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, seeks to connect students’ innovation, ingenuity, and fresh perspectives with local government agencies to learn about their needs, conduct research and develop solutions. In the coming months, staff will define the scope and purpose of individual projects before matching them with courses offered at the University in fall 2018 and spring 2019.

“We’re very excited about our upcoming collaborations with Scott and Ramsey Counties,” said RCP’s Director Mike Greco. “Each community brings to the table a unique set of issues and projects. Working with staff, residents, and other partners in these communities will provide U of M students with incredible experiential learning opportunities, while increasing each county’s capacity to remain resilient in the face of rapid economic, social, and environmental changes.”

Ramsey County’s proposal identified up to 18 potential projects, including improving access to county service facilities, removing transportation barriers to employment, increasing housing stability and building resilience among youth and vulnerable populations.

“The RCP partnership is a wonderful opportunity for our organization to advance and align our strategic priorities and goals of well-being, prosperity, opportunity and accountability,” said Ramsey County Manager Julie Kleinschmidt. “This program will allow us to collaboratively develop innovative strategies that prepare Ramsey County for future growth in community resiliency and sustainability and support our vision of a vibrant community where all are valued and thrive. Our staff are very excited to partner with U of M students to establish the framework for programs and initiatives that will directly benefit our residents for several years to come.” Scott County’s proposal identified 14 potential projects, including planning for autonomous vehicles.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for Scott County to have access to the resources and cutting-edge research the University of Minnesota can share,” said Scott County Board Chair Tom Wolf. “This partnership will allow us to examine policy, project, and program initiatives—identified by our community—in a well-defined and collaborative way.”

Beginning in September, the University and counties will collaborate on more than a dozen multidisciplinary projects to advance resilience and sustainability. (Source: Ramsey County)


Volunteers help provide ramps

After Debora Blakeway had back surgery, she needed a wheelchair ramp for her house in St. Paul. But some builders wanted more than $8,000, she said. Others offered rental ramps, but for the equivalent of a monthly house payment. Blakeway had been living on disability for some time “so I didn’t have that kind of money.”

Rebuilding Together Twin Cities came to her rescue. It is a community revitalization organization that relies on volunteers to provide services such as ramps to homeowners with limited financial resources.

Blakeway soon met the Ramp Crew, a group of retired Honeywell employees. Since forming in 2012, they have built more than 30 ramps for people in need. They’ve donated almost 4,400 hours, the equivalent of two full years of work by a full-time builder.

Members of the crew come from all aspects of Honeywell, said supervisor Armand Peterson of Maple Grove. “We have manufacturers, design engineers, technicians, managers,” he said. “The repartee is pretty interesting sometimes. But we don’t even talk about what we did for a living. We get together and enjoy ourselves, and enjoy helping some people when we can.”

Surprisingly, the crew is without jobs for the upcoming build season. Rebuilding Together Twin Cities has sent out a call for ramp applications in the Twin Cities area. (They’re looking for homeowners in need of new roofs, as well.)

Interested people can receive an application by e-mailing [email protected] or by calling 651-776-4273. There are several criteria for homeownership, income and age that must be met to be considered.

Blakeway, whose ramp was built in 2014, no longer needs a wheelchair. But with continuing back problems and surgery, she relies on the ramp to provide a safe walking surface to get to her part-time job at Land O’Lakes as a product evaluator. (Source: Star Tribune)



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