Regional News in Review - October 2014

 

Care provider sentenced for fraud

A Medicaid-funded home care provider who operated two programs in Woodbury was sentenced in Ramsey District County Court to pay restitution totaling $20,791, serve 30 days in the Ramsey County Workhouse and forfeit any employment where he could access Medicaid funds. A jury last month found Charles Kwadzo Sokpa-Anku of Carelinks Home Care, Inc. guilty on three counts of Medicaid fraud.

He will also pay $300 in fines and serve five years’ probation upon release from the county jail.

Department of Human Services (DHS) Inspector General Jerry Kerber said the case represents a stepped-up effort to crack down on fraud against Minnesota’s programs that use public funds to purchase services. Using increased funding appropriated by the Minnesota Legislature, the department has also begun investigating child care providers who falsely bill the state for child care assistance funds.

“When providers fail to perform the job they are paid to do, they not only fail the program participants, but they violate the public trust they promised to respect,” Kerber said in a statement to the court.

From 2009 through early 2011, Sokpa-Anku received Medicaid payments after submitting false claims for qualified professional services. Personal care services provided to a Medicaid recipient must be supervised by a qualified professional, who is a registered nurse, a licensed social worker, or a mental health professional, to ensure that the care provided by a personal care assistant is appropriate and complies with the individual care plan.

Sokpa-Anku’s company served as an intermediary between the person receiving care and DHS. Even though Sokpa-Anku attended training as a health care provider and was informed of the rules and regulations, he billed for services that were never provided, submitted false claims and failed to provide required documentation. (Source: Minnesota DHS)

 

 

 

Blind bus rider seeks info

A dispute over data access with Metro Transit has involved a blind Twin Cities man. In November 2013 Robert Burks had a Metro Transit bus roll past him at the transit stop. When he questioned the bus driver, the driver called transit police and asked that he be removed from the bus. Burks wasn’t cited and was allowed to board another bus. Burks and Minnesota Disability Law Center then filed a complaint, and also complained to the Department of Human Rights. But they have been unable to get the bus video of Burks’ encounter with the bus driver.

Metro Transit has refused to release the video, stating that it is private personnel data. Metro Transit didn’t discipline the bus driver involved. The driver couldn’t articulate to transit police why he asked that Burks be taken off of his bus.

A judge agreed with Burks that the video should be released. But Metropolitan Council, which oversees Metro Transit, has appealed that decision. A similar legal dispute is going on between a Twin Cities television station and Metro Transit over another bus incident.Legal experts warn that claiming that private employee data trumps all other use for video taken in public sets a difficult precedent. (Source: Star Tribune)

 

 

 

Impasse on cable issues

The longtime home of the television show “Disability Viewpoints” continues to be in doubt. Contract negotiations between service provider Comcast and the North Suburban Cable Commission have reached an impasse, so the debate between the two parties has been sent to an administrative law judge. The state Office of Administrative Hearings will conduct a public hearing. No date has been set.

According to the Pioneer Press, each party blames the other for the impasse. The commission oversees public access television programming in more than a dozen Twin Cities suburbs. Comcast and the commission are negotiating a new contract. Comcast wants to greatly cut the PEG or public education government programming fee it pays the commission. This would be allowable under current Federal Communications Commission rules, as there have been federal changes in what cable service providers have to help pay for.

But the suburban commission members and show producers, including the “Disability Viewpoints” crew, say that the cuts would all but wipe out the locally-produced shows. (Source: Pioneer Press)

 

 

 

Concerns grow over public housing

Changes in the makeup of those who live in public housing is becoming a controversial issue in Minnesota. The Star Tribune recently featured Heights Manor, a Columbia Heights public housing project where senior citizen residents are concerned about the changing demographics of their community. More younger people with disabilities have moved in as allowed under federal housing guidelines. That has led to disagreements between residents. Older residents want building rules enforced. Younger residents with disabilities contend that they are being discriminated against by older residents. Seven elderly Heights residents were recently reprimanded for harassing younger residents

Disability advocates noted that such disagreements may intensify as the state moves forward with plans to further desegregate housing for people with disabilities. It also is forcing changes for property owners. The City of Columbia Heights, which owns Parkview Manor, is selling that building next year in part because the city can no longer afford to serve the growing number of people with disabilities in the building. (Source: Star Tribune)

 

 

 

DARTS loses paratransit contract

DARTS, a longtime provider of transit service to people with disabilities, lost its contract with the Metropolitan Council in September. The Dakota County-based nonprofit was found to have falsified records and not done needed bus maintenance. The problems at DARTS angers some council Audit Committee members. “This is appalling,” said Steven Chavez, a Met Council member who represents Burnsville, Inver Grove Heights, South St. Paul and most of Eagan. “This is a huge breach of trust.”

DARTS has provided paratransit services for about 30 years. While no passengers were injured, the violations were serious enough to cause the contract termination. DARTS had a five-year, $8.7 million contract to operate 37 buses, and a $5.5 million contract covering 15 other vehicles. Both contracts will end Nov. 9 and other service providers will step in.

DARTS President and CEO Greg Konat apologized to the committee. He said DARTS has changed its practices.

The relationship between the Met Council and DARTS spans about three decades.

An audit found that on several occasions, DARTS staff changed records of when vehicles arrived to pick up passengers. Falsifying records resulted in inappropriate billings to customers, who are not required to pay fares when a ride is late by 30 minutes or more, the audit stated.

Also, buses were found to be poorly maintained, dirty and with safety hazards. Some wheelchair lifts didn’t work, and others had doors that were difficult or impossible to open. (Source: Pioneer Press, Star Tribune)

 

 

 

 

Stolen bike is returned

A Circle Pines man with disabilities has gotten his custom-built three-wheeled bicycle returned, after it was stolen. But community members had to then rally to repair Gary Ableiter’s only means of transportation.

Ableiter cannot drive and has difficulty walking, as a result of a car crash when he was five years old. A drunk driver hit a vehicle he was riding in. “For Mr. Ableiter this was a very significant quality of life crime. This is how he gets from point A to point B. He rides all day long every day of the year,” said Centennial Lakes Police Administrative Sergeant Russell Blanck.

The bike was stolen in August but was found last month. Employees at a Dunn Brothers coffee shop raised more than $500 to replace or repair the bike. The bike was found in the possession of two juveniles, after police received a tip. At that point no charges were filed. (Source: KARE 11 News)

 

 

 

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