Regional News in Review - May 2019

Live Well at Home grants announced

Minnesota consistently ranks as one of the top states for providing services and supports to older adults and people with disabilities, according to a national scorecard by AARP. Helping people live well at home is one of the key reasons. The Minnesota Department of Human Services is building on that track record by awarding $8.6 million in Live Well at Home grants to help older Minnesotans remain in their homes rather than move to nursing homes or other more expensive settings.

For almost 20 years, the Live Well at Home grants have supported a variety of efforts to help the growing number of Minnesotans age 65 and older maintain their health, independence and community involvement. Examples of projects and services to be funded in 2019 include making homes accessible with ramps; offering targeted services to older immigrants and refugees; helping with groceries and household chores; alleviating depression; expanding and supporting networks of volunteer caregivers and creating space for tribal elders to offer inter-generational learning.

“Minnesota is a national leader in helping older adults remain in their homes and communities as they age, which is what most people prefer,” said Human Services Commissioner Tony Lourey. “We are grateful to the many organizations that partner with us to improve the lives of older adults throughout the state, and we are pleased to be able to support their efforts, and those of their many dedicated volunteers, with Live Well at Home grants.”

The Live Well at Home program has distributed the state-appropriated grants since 2001. The latest grant funds are going to 54 organizations.
(Source: Minnesota DHS)

Mankato eyes public access

From 1,909 sidewalk ramps to 51 bus stops to 31 crosswalks, the city of Mankato has some shortfalls when it comes to complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

And Mankato is not alone. Area cities and counties have millions of dollars of work to do to become ADA compliant, according to a recently completed comprehensive assessment of public infrastructure in Blue Earth and Nicollet counties.

“Our team walked 175 miles of sidewalk and trail … looked at 80 bus stops … looked at 287 traffic signals,” said transportation planner Charles Androsky of the Mankato Area Planning Organization. “So a lot went into this.”

Those figures were a reference only to the ADA compliance issues on city-owned infrastructure in Mankato. Over the past two years, MAPO looked at thousands of pedestrian ramps, crosswalks and signal lights and hundreds of miles of sidewalk and trail in North Mankato and in smaller towns in the two counties. In addition, dozens of meetings were held with organizations representing the elderly and people with disabilities, who often have particular concerns about pedestrian barriers.

ADA transition plans nationwide were mandated by federal transportation officials, who threatened that future federal road funding would be cut off if local jurisdictions didn’t get the assessments done this year. The initiative may have been a recognition that the Americans with Disabilities Act is about to hit a major milestone. The landmark accessibility legislation, which aims to guarantee that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as other Americans, will be 30 years old in 2020.

“They felt progress wasn’t coming fast enough,” Mankato Public Works Director Jeff Johnson said of the federal government.

Any number of issues can lead to noncompliance in a sidewalk or a pedestrian ramp between a street and a sidewalk, Johnson said. There are obvious issues such as barriers in a sidewalk or crumbling concrete or vegetation growing through the walkway. But if the walkway has too steep of a slope or is too narrow, that can also be deemed non-compliant. Standards also have changed over the years, such as those related to crosswalk signal buttons and the tactile warning bumps on pedestrian ramps that warn walkers with vision problems that they’re nearing the street. (Source: Free Press of Mankato)

County, Lyft help workers

Dakota County and the ride-sharing service Lyft are partnering to provide some residents on Medicaid waivers a new transportation option to and from work. The partnership pilot project is focused on helping people with disabilities find work in nonpublic transit locations or hours. Any residents who receive home and community-based services are eligible for the free program that started in the spring.

“We decided to think outside the box: ‘Would a rideshare service be an option for folks?’” said Robyn Bernardy, Dakota County’s transportation coordinator, told the Pioneer Press.

The county is banking on the service as a reliable on-demand transportation option for those who need it, she said. She also pointed to the service as a way of giving some relief to family members who are sometimes asked to give rides.

Currently, the county offers bus passes and works with other transportation providers to give employment transportation for residents. Residents can use their Lyft credit to help augment that existing service, she said. The county is rolling out the service in phases. It is set to be available for everyone by fall. A $1000,000 Minnesota Department of Human services grant is helping pay for the program.

Currently, there are 28 riders, and the county hopes that “several hundred” of the 590 eligible people will be using the service by the time the program fully launches in the fall.

The cost for eligible residents is free and paid through Medicaid waivers, with riders receiving a certain amount of credit to their Lyft accounts. The credit can shift based on where their workplaces are and other factors, Bernardy said.

The program is to continue through June 2020. (Source: Pioneer Press)

Students learn inside hospital

A hospital may not be a typical place for a classroom, but at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare in St. Paul, it’s part of an effort to help students with special needs.

Unemployment is often high for adults with disabilities. Last month, only 34 percent of all working-age people with disabilities were employed, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Now Gillette is one of a handful of places in the Twin Cities hoping to change that statistic with a program called Project SEARCH.

It’s a program designed for 18-to-21 years olds with special needs or complex medical conditions, meant to help prepare them for the workforce.

“It’s a lot of those soft skills: being professional, teamwork, problem solving, communication. That’s the main thing employers are looking for,” said Emily Norton, a teacher with Project SEARCH.

Part of the time is spent working in different rotations around the hospital. Christopher Tucker, 21, said it’s helped him discover he has an interest in assistive technology.

“We always have to practice interviews, building a resume, knowing whether or not to show up on time,” he said. In its first year, the program at Gillette graduated 10 students and all found jobs. Two were hired at Gillette.

The work being done by Project Search is important because of recent downward trends in disability employment The classroom at Gillette isn’t the only Project SEARCH location.

There are sites at various locations around the Twin Cities, including Medtronic, the State Capitol and Embassy Suites in Bloomington. (Source: KSTP-TV)

Second try for fundraising walk

A disabled veteran from Wahpeton is raising money for his comrades – again.

“I didn’t raise the funds that should have been raised … and so I’m going to have to do it again,” Jerry Meadows said of his initial walk that raised, as of April 30, about $4,000 of his $5,000 goal.

“I’m trying to avoid that length of a walk twice. That was more physically draining than I had ever imagined, but I’m willing to do it again,” said Meadows, who set off again May 1, from Bemidji. “The only thing that’s going to stop me at this point is if I raise enough money.”

The Wounded Warrior Project is a national nonpartisan nonprofit that seeks to connect, serve and empower wounded veterans of military actions after Sept. 11, 2001, through peers and programs; mental and physical health and wellness; and career and benefits counseling.

“This veteran plans to keep his promise,” Meadows said of his fundraiser goal. “But I can’t do it alone, so on May 1, I will leave from Bemidji and continue as far as it takes for the donation button to read $5,000. … I’m planning to try to do a small part in making a better world.”

Meadows and his wife began their journey last time from Paul Bunyan Park in Bemidji on his birthday. The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1260 in Bemidji gave the couple a send-off with a police escort out of town. For their second attempt, they will do everything exactly as before.

Virginia Miller followed her husband in a Jeep as he walked to St. Cloud, offering emotional and physical support to Meadows, who underwent a triple bypass. Meadows also has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, 10 cardiac stents and requires supplemental oxygen to live.

He said the route from Bemidji to St. Cloud through Brainerd was chosen because it was centrally located. The driving distance from Paul Bunyan Park in Bemidji to St. Cloud is about 150 miles, according to Google Maps.

Those interested in donating to the Wounded Warrior Project can visit here. Donations to the organization are tax-deductible. (Source: Bemidji Pioneer)