Regional News in Review – September 2009

Non-profits provide free access The Minneapolis City Council approved 51 applications for Wireless Community accounts Aug. 28. The accounts are […]

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Non-profits provide free access
The Minneapolis City Council approved 51 applications for Wireless Community accounts Aug. 28. The accounts are free wireless Internet accounts for non-profit organizations that in turn provide free computer access to the public. The free accounts will be good through 2010.

“It is not enough to just invest in state-of-the-art wireless Internet technology, we also have to make sure that more people than ever can have access to that technology,” said Mayor R.T. Rybak. “These free wireless Internet accounts are a great example of how we are going above and beyond what other communities have done to deliver Internet access to our residents and businesses.”

“We are very fortunate that the wireless network allows us the unique opportunity to fund programs that help bridge the digital divide,” said City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden, who is a member of the Digital Inclusion Fund Advisory Board. “By increasing free access to technology and educating more people on how to use it, we can give them the skills necessary to get a good education, a good job and access to the information and services they need online to improve their lives.”

The Wireless Community accounts were awarded to agencies that provide public computer access, technology literacy training, and/or technology support for underserved communities. Applications were reviewed by the City of Minneapolis staff and the Digital Inclusion Advisory Board, which made recommendations to the City Council last month regarding which organizations will receive the free accounts.

The selected agencies will also receive free monthly subscription vouchers that they can use to recruit volunteers who can assist with staffing and training in their community technology centers. In total, $15,000 in free service vouchers will be distributed, in addition to the free accounts.

Later this year, city staff will complete a second call for applications, with targeted outreach to groups that serve people with disabilities, seniors, charter schools, and agencies/organizations that serve populations or geographic areas. The Wireless Community accounts are the latest examples of how Minneapolis residents are benefiting from the robust community benefits agreement negotiated between the City of Minneapolis and USI Wireless, the company that built, owns and manages the wireless network throughout Minneapolis. [Source: City of Minneapolis]


Phony veterans’ group criticized

Janie VandenBosch’s blood boils when she receives telephone solicitations from a group that calls itself the Minnesota Disabled Veterans. The caller has offered to send her plastic bags, light bulbs and other items in exchange for a donation. Problem is, VandenBosch works for Minnesota Disabled American Veterans (DAV) – and her group has nothing to do with the calls.

“Sometimes I think I should just let them send me the bags so I can see who they are,” said VandenBosch, who coordinates clothing donations to the state DAV. She was interviewed by the Star Tribune about the confusing calls. “But I’m also hearing about them from people who donate clothes to us. They say, ‘You called us 10 times this week. What’s happening?”

Officials say Minnesota is being hit by a fundraising scam that has been active in other parts of the country. Nobody knows who is behind the phone calls, where they are being made from and what the money is used for. In Minnesota, a live caller or a prerecorded announcement claims to represent “Minnesota Disabled Veterans,” confusing itself with the 89-year-old Disabled Veterans of America.

But not a penny of the money goes to the roughly 40,000 disabled veterans in Minnesota or the 2.5 million nationally, said Tim O’Connor, executive director of the DAV Department of Minnesota. Likewise, Minnesota chapters of the Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Veterans of Foreign Wars report no affiliation with the callers. Both groups have heard from people who are concerned about or confused by the calls.

“It’s disgraceful,” said O’Connor. “You have disabled veterans, some amputees, from World War II up to Afghanistan and Iraq being taken advantage of. Our members have Purple Hearts, they’ve been prisoners of war.

Minnesota Disabled Veterans is not a registered charity in Minnesota, the attorney general’s office said. The office, which investigates charity fraud, said it could not reveal whether it is investigating the operation.

To complicate matters, if the charity is not registered with a state and does not provide an accurate address or phone number to callers, it’s very difficult to investigate them, said Rich Cowles, executive director of the Minnesota Charities Review Council. [Source: Star Tribune]


Radio Talking Book goes to China

Radio Talking Book, a program of Minnesota State Services for the Blind, is extending its reach far beyond Minnesota this summer. Dave Andrews, chief technology officer for the service, visited China as a consultant for a new Chinese nationwide radio reading service. The service there is sponsored by TCL Electronics and the China Charitable Foundation.

The Chinese foundation intends to establish and fund a nationwide radio reading service, using the same technology and type of radios developed for Radio Talking Book. The Chinese service would be available in 200 to 500 cities.

Chinese officials indicate it will take about one year to get service up and running, creating the largest such service in the world. [Source: Radio Talking Book]


‘Cash for clunkers’ affects charities

While the federal government’s “cash-for-clunkers” was a huge hit with car buyers looking to snap up rebates of up to $4,500 for trading in gas-guzzlers for new fuel-efficient cars, some charities that rely on vehicle donations for funding say they’re receiving fewer cars and trucks.

Others, though, call the program a boon for prompting awareness and activity in an economically distressed market. The trend is being followed by Minnesota charities that rely on vehicle donations, and by similar charities around the nation. Many charity operators and economic observers say it’s too soon to determine how the clunkers program will ultimately affect giving. The program ended in August. More than 12,000 cars were traded in by Minnesotans during the month of cash for clunkers – one of the highest numbers in the nation. ” It is logical that many charities would be hurt,” said John List, an economics professor at the University of Chicago who has studied fundraising. “But it’s intuition right now. All the experts are guessing.”

Charities either sell the donated vehicles to raise funds or rehabilitate vehicles for the needy. Minnesota has about 200 charities that solicit vehicle donations, with the charities getting about 8,000 vehicles a year. Car donations generate an estimated $8 million a year for Twin Cities nonprofits. But this year, Courage Center expects to raise $500,000 less from car donations. Nationally, major charities such as Volunteers of America and the Society of St. Vincent De Paul are reporting a 15 percent reduction during the month-long period.

The crunch on car donations isn’t uniform: Some local charities actually saw a slight increase this summer-in part because of concerns by loyal donors. But most charities say even the value of their donated vehicles has declined and they worry about the long-term repercussions of pulling so many cars out of the pool of potential donors.

Donated cars are the top fundraiser for Courage Center, which typically raises about $2.4 million a year that way, said Kelly Buttler, director of in-kind giving at the Courage Center in Golden Valley. “Any changes that happen in the auto industry affect our donation program.” As for the effect of cash for clunkers, Buttler said, “it’s a little depressing, but at least it’s ending.” [Source: Star Tribune, KARE-11, Associated Press]


Millions in cuts looming

A new American Health Care Association (AHCA) analysis of the pending U.S. House of Representatives’ health reform bill, combined with the impact of a recently-enacted Medicare regulation cutting Medicare-funded nursing home care, finds seniors in Minnesota requiring nursing and rehabilitative care will face total funding cuts of $654 million over ten years. Nationally, seniors’ Medicare cuts will total $44 billion over ten years, prompting Minnesota’s long-term care community to warn that Minnesota seniors’ care needs are endangered by the House bill, as are the jobs of more than 893 caregivers in Minnesota alone.

“The bottom line is that Medicare funded nursing home care will be substantially undermined by the pending House health reform bill. We urge lawmakers to use the last weeks of August to revise its plan so that Minnesota seniors are helped by the reform measure — not hurt by it,” said Patti Cullen, CEO and president, Care Providers of Minnesota. “Arguments being made that seniors’ benefits will not be reduced by the House bill ignore the fact that when Medicare cuts provider reimbursement, providers, in turn, are forced to cut staff because labor expenses comprise 70 percent of facility costs. Cutting staff within a facility has a direct, immediate, negative impact on patients and their care — and that is what the House bill will do.”

The new analysis of the House bill’s Medicare funding reductions over ten years, combined with the $12 billion 10-year Medicare cuts just put into effect by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), is computed by the AHCA Reimbursement and Research Department, using the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score of both HR 3200 and the recent CMS funding rule, along with Medicare Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) utilization data. All 50 State Cut Data Available at

Care Providers of Minnesota is an association representing over 500 providers of long-term care, senior housing, and home- and community-based services. It was created in 1947 as a supportive partner to nursing homes. Its job then, as it is today, is to serve the needs of long-term care providers and support them in giving their clients the highest quality care. More information can be found at [Source: Care Providers of Minnesota]


Sanford case results in hearing

Ray Sanford, a 55-year-old Columbia Heights man forced to undergo electro-shock treatments against his will, has been assigned a new psychiatrist. He also has a new attorney, who is moving to change his guardianship.

Before the changes, Sanford received more than 40 involuntary electroshocks also known as “electroconvulsive therapy” or ECT. The treatments were not only administered against his wishes but also against the wishes of his family. The treatments were administered on an outpatient basis.

He recently asked for help from the group MindFreedom, which kicked off a Ray campaign activating people internationally.

Sanford said because of his campaign his new psychiatrist-who opposes forced electroshock-has been officially approved. But the controversy over his treatment may have implications for other Minnesotans. On Aug. 10 the Minnesota Legislature held a public hearing to discuss electroshock treatments committed Minnesota residents. No action was taken at the hearing but information presented there could serve as a basis for future state laws. For more information, go to [Source: MindFreedom]


No charges filed in fall

Two nursing assistants won’t be charged as a result of a June accident that killed a well-known Roman Catholic priest and Army chaplain. The New Hope City Attorney’s Office announced in late August that charges wouldn’t be filed in connection with the accident and death of the Rev. Tim Vakoc. Vakoc, 49, was paralyzed in 2004, in a roadside bombing in Iraq. Vakoc needed round-the-clock care and was being moved from a wheelchair to his bed at St. Therese nursing home in New Hope June 20 when the accident occurred. He fell from a lift, sustained a head injury and died the same day in a Twin Cities hospital.

The state Office of Health Facility Complaints at the Minnesota Department of Health released a detailed account of the accident in August. The two nursing assistants have been fired and will not be allowed to work in another facility. They can be disqualified from such work by state law, but can appeal the ruling.

The investigation found no neglect by the nursing home, but blamed the two nursing assistants, saying they gave “incongruous” explanations of what happened that day. The investigation revealed that nothing was wrong with the lift itself, but raised questions about how it was being used.

The state report also indicated that “the statements made by the [nursing assistants] are incongruous with what happened.” If they had followed procedure and monitored the patient properly, the report said, “They would have been able to describe what occurred.”

After the state report was released, Father Tim’s brother, Jeff Vakoc, issued a brief statement: “Regarding the premature loss of our son and brother, we have received the Minnesota Department of Health … report and are currently reviewing it. At this point we are considering the findings contained in the report and, on advice of counsel, we cannot make further comment.” [Star Tribune, KSTP-TV]

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