Regional News in Review - October 2011

Many must change health plans

This fall more than 70,000 Twin Cities residents enrolled in state health insurance programs must choose new plans. This is because a new program at the Minnesota Department of Human Services is being implemented. By putting managed care contracts out for competitive bids, state officials hope to save money in the Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare health programs. Gov. Mark Dayton asked his administration to implement competitive bidding for health maintenance organizations (HMOs) in the seven-county metro area to test whether such a program can reduce overall costs. Five HMOs now have contracts with the state to manage the public programs in some or all of the seven counties. But next year, at least two and possibly three of those options won’t be available in some of the counties.

This change affects many people with disabilities. Medical Assistance is Minnesota’s version of the state-federal Medicaid health insurance program, which serves lower-income residents and people with disabilities. The state hires HMOs to manage care for about 70 percent of the state’s 732,500 Medical Assistance recipients in the state. MinnesotaCare is a state health insurance program for people with slightly higher incomes. About 132,000 people are enrolled in the program.

HMOs came under fire this spring when media reports focused on their profits. Health plan operating income from state health programs came in at $130.8 million for 2010, up from $98.7 million in 2009. In September the Department of Human Services mailed about 74,000 letters to beneficiaries under the age of 65 whose health plans won’t be renewed for 2012. Callers to a Medica customer service line for public programs, for example, heard a recorded message: “If you have recently received a plan change notice in the mail and are calling with questions, press one.” But because some negotiations are still in progress final details of plans and impacts on clients aren’t clear. Anyone with questions should call his or her HMO for details.  [Source: Pioneer Press, Star Tribune]

 

Charges filed in group home death

Charges have been filed in the Aug. 28 death of Gerald Hyska, who drowned at a state-run group home near Braham. Devra C. Stiles was charged Sept. 29 with second-degree manslaughter for “her culpable negligence,” according to a complaint filed in Isanti County. Stiles was supposed to be watching Hyska ashe had a bath but left him alone in the tub to take a phone call.

It still isn’t clear how long Hyska was left alone in the tub. Hyska’s care plan said he should never be left alone in a bathtub and required around-the-clock assistance, court records show. He lived at the residence with three other people with disabilities. Hyska, 56, was born with severe brain damage and was quadriplegic, blind and unable to speak.

Stiles was the lone staff member on duty the night of the drowning. Prosecutors claim that it took Stiles nearly 30 minutes to call 911 after ending the phone call with her son.

Gov. Mark Dayton and state officials are closely watching the case, which has already prompted changes in how quickly deaths at state-run facilities are reported to top managers at the state Department of Human Services (DHS). DHS continues its own investigation.

Stiles, 62, faces up to 10 years in prison and $20,000 in fines. In a past Star Tribune interview, her husband said his wife was a 37-year state employee with an excellent work record. He said that staff cuts had made her job harder and that answering the phone was a critical part of her responsibilities. She also had to lift residents in and out of the tub by herself because there was no equipment. [Source: Star Tribune]

 

Woman accused of beating is found guilty

A woman accused of beating her husband, who is a stroke survivor and uses a wheelchair, was found guilty in Pope County in September. Loretta Buhl, 36, of Glenwood, was accused of blaming the beating on an intruder in their home.

Buhl called police in November 2010 and claimed an intruder entered the family home, beat her husband and assaulted her. Her husband sustained head trauma and broken ribs. Local and state law enforcement officials soon found that the story about an intruder was untrue, and she was found guilty this week of third-degree assault and falsely reporting a crime. Buhl will be sentenced Nov. 16 and faces up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. [Source: Pioneer Press]

 

Suicide program in peril

The Minnesota National Guard leads the country in the number of soldiers who have committed suicide. But a Lutheran Social Services program that has been shown to successfully prevent suicides in the state’s military may run out of money by year’s end. The program is spending $50, to $70,000 a month, and only has a $500,000 state allocation. More funding won’t be available until June at the earliest, leaving the only option a federally-funded program based outside of Minnesota.

“We run a real risk of being victims of our own success,” Mary Beth Galey, senior director of counseling and adoption for Lutheran Social Service, the state’s largest nonprofit social service organization, told the Star Tribune. “To a great extent, we’ll probably be stuck.”

From 2007 to 2010, 18 members of the Minnesota National Guard have killed themselves. While Minnesota ranks 36th in the country in suicide rates overall, no other state National Guard unit has a higher rate of suicide, according to statistics maintained by the National Guard Bureau. In addition, there have been four confirmed Guard suicides in Minnesota this year. A fifth is being investigated.

The program is CORE, for crisis management, outreach, referral and education. Started in 2008 to combat post-deployment problems, it provides free, confidential counseling to veterans and active-duty service members and their families. It served more than 1,400 clients in the 2009-10 fiscal year and more than 1,500 in its most recent fiscal year. Program officials claim it has prevented more than 14 suicides, helped mend more than 45 marriages and kept more than 40 people from becoming homeless. [Source: Star Tribune]

 

HUD announces grants

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) today awarded Minnesota more than $1 million in grants to help public and assisted housing residents find employment; connect with needed services; and help the elderly and people with disabilities maintain independent living. The funding also allows the grantees to retain or hire “service coordinators” or case workers to work directly with these HUD-assisted families to connect them to the supportive services that meet their individual needs.

The funding announced also includes: Approximately $35 million through the Resident Opportunities and Self Sufficiency – Service Coordinators Program (ROSS-SC) Program; approximately $15 million through the Public Housing – Family Self-Sufficiency Program (PH-FSS); and $45 million through the Multifamily Housing Service Coordinator Program (MHSC). “Providing housing assistance alone is often not enough to help individuals increase their independence,” said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan.

“The service coordinators funded through these programs open doors that help HUD-assisted families  find jobs, access services and assist the elderly and disabled to continue living as independently as possible in their homes.”

The purpose of the ROSS-SC and PH-FSS programs is to encourage local, innovative strategies that link public housing assistance with public and private resources to enable participating families to increase earned income; reduce or eliminate the need for welfare assistance; and make progress toward achieving economic independence and housing self-sufficiency. [Source: HUD]

 

Use of cameras is rising

Nursing home abuse and neglect cases have more families using advances in surveillance technology and using video cameras to help protect loved ones they suspect are being abused or mistreated by caregivers. Even some facility managers and law enforcement officials are now using hidden cameras to catch workers who mistreat elderly or vulnerable residents, including at least two cases at assisted-living facilities in Minnesota in recent years.

No figures are available, but specialists in the long-term care industry say the use of so-called “granny cams” is spreading, though the technology is also raising a host of legal and privacy issues. Recent cases that have drawn attention to the issue include one in Ohio this spring, when a man placed a hidden camera in a desk fan to catch two nursing home workers abusing and hitting his 78-year-old mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. New Jersey workers were caught abusing an 87-year-old woman, prompting a wrongful-death lawsuit in June.

Georgia Anetzberger, president-elect of the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, said the spread of cameras in nursing homes is part of a broader proliferation of video surveillance in society to catch anything from traffic violations to shoplifting.

But many in the long-term care industry has fought legislative efforts across the United States to legalize the use of cameras, citing insurance costs and resident and employee privacy issues. A 2009 Minnesota law allows adult foster-care facilities to install cameras for overnight monitoring of vulnerable residents to save on staff costs. [Source: Star Tribune]

 

Veterans’ homes are honored

The Minnesota Veterans Homes were recently awarded Best in Class titles in various categories at all five veterans’ homes across Minnesota. Over the course of the last year, Pinnacle Quality Insight, a nationally recognized customer satisfaction firm, interviewed the families and Residents of the Minnesota Veterans Homes in Fergus Falls, Hastings, Luverne, Minneapolis and Silver Bay regarding their levels of satisfaction across a variety of care and service areas.

“This is a great achievement for each of our Veterans Homes,” said Larry Shellito, Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs. “It is just one example of the dedication and commitment our Veterans Home staff has in enhancing the quality of life for our residents and continuing to provide excellent care to our nation’s heroes. As a result of these surveys, Pinnacle awarded the Homes a combined total of 49 “Best in Class” certificates, recognizing their commitment to high quality care. Admission process, communication from facility, dining service, cleanliness, individual needs, laundry service, nursing care, quality of food, recreation, resident care and quality of stay were among areas evaluated. [Source: Minnesota Department of Veterans’ Affairs]

 

Year-round free drug disposal set

The Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department has announced the Twin Cities metro area’s first free, year-round safe disposal site for unused and expired prescription medicines, over-the-counter drugs, and pet medicines. Sheriff Matt Bostrom announced the site opening Sept. 12.

While many counties offer drug collection days, this is the first site where drugs can be dropped into a receiving slot.

Prescription and over-the-counter drug abuse is a growing problem, especially among teens, who get drugs from family medicine cabinets. Poisoning is also the second leading cause of accidental death in Minnesota, which can occur when unused medicines are left around the home. Improperly disposed of medicines can also end up in our lakes and streams, and harm wildlife. Bostrom and Ramsey County commissioners and public health officials attended the grand opening.

The drugs can be dropped off at the Ramsey County Law Enforcement Center (LEC), 425 Grove Street, St. Paul. [Source: Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department]