Regional News in Review - November 2012

Guardians cannot end life support

A Hennepin County District Court judge has ruled that guardians cannot order their wards to be removed from life support. The right-to-die issue could have implications for many of the plus-12,000 Minnesotans currently under guardianship. The Oct. 18 ruling by Judge Jay Quam is the first time the issue has been addressed by a state court.

The case involved Jeffers Tschumy, 57, who died last spring. Tschumy, who had cognitive disabilities, had been under guardianship since 2008. He lived in a group home before choking on food in April 2012. He couldn’t be revived and was declared severely brain damaged with little hope for recovery. He had no known family and no health care directive on file.

Allina Health Systems filed a motion asking that Tschumy be removed from life support. Allina asked that either Tschumy’s guardian be allowed to make that decision or that the court make the decision. The guardian’s attorney and an attorney representing Tschumy’s interest agreed with that decision. Quam authorized the termination of life support in May, but denied the guardian’s request for the sole power to make that decision.

Quam’s October ruling elaborates on his May decision. He wrote that although guardians have a strong case to make end-of-life decisions under the state law that allows them to withhold or allow medical care, that law doesn’t specifically allow them to terminate life support. Until the Minnesota Legislature decides to revisit the issue and change state law, only a judge or a legally authorized representative can allow life support to be removed.

In his ruling, Quam stated, “Simply stated, if the Legislature intended to give a guardian the power to end the ward’s life, it would have explicitly done so.” Quam wrote. “The Court does not believe that the Legislature intended a subtle inference in a statute to bestow on 12,000 guardians around the state the most awesome power imaginable over the life of another.” [Source: Star Tribune]

We Can Ride must ride away

We Can Ride, a program that provides horse therapy for people with disabilities, had to saddle up and ride away from its longtime home at the University of Minnesota St. Paul campus. The program moved out Oct. 23-24. The horses and equipment were relocated to Hastings.

The program has other facilities in the region but the U of M site was the only one in the city. University officials didn’t renew We Can Ride’s lease. College of Veterinary Medicine officials said they ended the relationship reluctantly. The university needs space for its own programs, couldn’t afford to help the nonprofit any longer and faced the possible loss of accreditation for housing the program and its horses.

Brad Thorsen is the group’s executive director. Thorsen told KSTP-TV, “We did not plan for this to happen.” Therapy sessions will start in Hastings by spring. [Source: KSTP-TV, Star Tribune]

Scooter is stolen, then replaced

A St. Paul man with a malignant brain tumor had his mobility scooter stolen in October. The scooter was replaced by the law firm Schwebel Goetz and Sieben but the original hasn’t been found.

George Hensley, 45, needs a scooter to travel any distance. He used the scooter to take a dog for walks, and to out by himself. The scooter was stolen from the yard of his home. Hensley’s brain tumor was diagnosed in February 2011, and he’s undergone radiation and chemotherapy.

When Hensley got out of the hospital, he couldn’t walk. He used a wheelchair and is starting to walk on his own now, but still needs a scooter for longer distances. The Pride-brand scooter is blue and has three gray wheels, handlebars and an attached battery-operated push light. It has a gray cloth seat with a black wheelchair seat atop.

If you have any information on the theft, call the St. Paul Police at 651-291-1111. [Source: Pioneer Press]

Special education center eyed

The North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale district, which serves students in Washington and Ramsey counties, wants to renovate the North St. Paul community center for $2.5 million early next year and then open a special education center there next fall.

The district believes it can save on tuition costs for students who now are being sent elsewhere for special programs. But the proposal is not just about saving money, said Karon Joyer, district director of special services. She believes students will be better served in a central facility. In addition, parents can take comfort knowing their children are within their home district.

Joyer said the refurbished building would offer students access to a gymnasium, creative arts spaces and the city’s Ramsey County branch library. The community center is currently losing money.

Emotional behavioral disorder programs, workbased learning and the TEEP (Therapeutic Elementary Education Program) would be housed in the building if it gets school district, city and state approvals. [Source: Star Tribune]

Minnesota recovers $9 million from

Abbott Labs in fraud case The Minnesota Department of Human Service’s Office of Inspector General has announced the recovery of $9 million from Abbott Laboratories as part of a national health care fraud settlement involving the drug Depakote.

The DHS Office of Inspector General was created in August 2011 by Commissioner Lucinda Jesson to investigate and root out fraud, waste and abuse. It is led by Inspector General Jerry Kerber, and is comprised of an investigations and a licensing division.

The settlement with Abbott Laboratories comes after it pled guilty to illegally marketing Depakote for uses that were not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as safe and effective. This resulted in false claims to Medicaid and other taxpayerfunded health care programs. Depakote is approved by the FDA to treat seizures and mania associated with bipolar disorder and to prevent migraines; however Abbott promoted its use for the control of agitation and aggression in patients experiencing dementia, uses for which it was not approved by the FDA. [Source: Minnesota Department of Human Services]

Guilty plea in deaf woman’s death

On the day he was to stand trial a second time for the March 2009 fatal hit-and-run of Joanie LeVasseur, Eric James Hunter, 44, pleaded guilty to one felony count in connection with her death. Dakota County District Judge David Knutson accepted Hunter’s guilty plea of leaving the scene of an accident involving death. Another count of the same charge and one of driving after suspension will be dismissed at sentencing Jan. 8.

Family members said that while the plea would bring some closure, it didn’t bring any satisfaction. They question how Hunter didn’t know he’d hit and fatally injured a person. Hunter’s first trial ended in a hung jury in October 2010. Even then, there was no question that the car Hunter was driving hit LeVasseur, who was deaf, as she ran across Cedar Avenue S. in Apple Valley. The question that the jury grappled with was whether Hunter knew that he had hit a person before driving off without stopping or calling police. [Source: Pioneer Press]

National group recognizes state hospital

An inpatient psychiatric hospital in Willmar has been recognized by the Joint Commission’s Top Performers on Key Quality Measures program. The hospital—operated by the Minnesota Department of Human Services—is part of the Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health Services (CABHS) program. The commission’s 2012 quality and safety report, “Improving America’s Hospitals,” recognizes accredited hospitals that attained and sustained excellence in accountability performance during the previous calendar year.

The Willmar program was among those cited for meeting or exceeding a 95 percent performance target on accountability measures for inpatient psychiatric services. The measures were related to admission screening, antipsychotic medications, and creation and transmission of continuing care plans. The facility is one of 11 hospitals in Minnesota and 620 hospitals nationwide being recognized in this year’s report.

“This recognition is much appreciated validation of the commitment and professionalism of our staff in providing specialized treatment to children and adolescents with serious emotional disturbance,” said Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson. [Source: Minnesota DHS]

Disability employment funding approved

The U.S. Department of Labor has announced $20,654,352 for seven states under the Disability Employment Initiative to improve education, training, and employment opportunities and outcomes for youth and adults with disabilities who are unemployed, underemployed and/or receiving Social Security disability benefits. The initiative is jointly funded and administered by the department’s Employment and Training Administration and its Office of Disability Employment Policy.

This round of funding is the third under the Disability Employment Initiative, which currently supports 16 state projects. The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) received $2,797,093.

All projects under this initiative build upon previous department initiatives by hiring staff with expertise in disability and workforce issues. The grants support extensive collaboration across multiple workforce and disability service systems in each state, including vocational rehabilitation, mental health, intellectual/developmental disability agencies, independent living centers, business leadership networks, and other community and nonprofit organizations.[Source: U.S. Department of Labor]

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