Regional News in Review - September 2012

Home health care workers owed wages

The U.S. Department of Labor has found $274,884 in back wages due to 61 home health care workers in Elk River after an investigation of Accurate Home Care revealed overtime and minimum wage violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Accurate Home Care operates two residential nursing facilities in Elk River, where the company is based. It also has locations in Moline and Peoria, Ill. The company has agreed to comply with all areas of the federal regulations in the future. 

“Workers in the home health care industry provide an important service to the community. They deserve to be paid properly for all hours that they work,” said Karen Chaikin, regional administrator for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division in the Midwest. “The resolution of this case should remind employers that the Labor Department will not hesitate to follow up if they deny workers their rightful pay.”

The investigation determined that the company violated minimum wage regulations by requiring employees to work without pay in order to make up hours from previous weeks. The investigation also disclosed overtime violations when licensed practical nurses were paid “straight time” rates, without an overtime premium, for hours worked over 40 in a week. For some licensed practical nurses, the employer banked “comp time” hours at straight time rates, providing time off in subsequent workweeks, rather than paying the required time-and-one-half for the overtime hours.

The Fair Labor Standards Act requires that covered employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 for all hours worked, plus time and one-half their regular rates, including commissions, bonuses and incentive pay, for hours worked beyond 40 per week. In general, “hours worked” includes all time an employee must be on duty, or on the employer’s premises or at any other prescribed place of work, from the beginning of the first principal work activity to the end of the last principal activity of the workday. Additionally, the law requires that accurate records of employees’ wages, hours and other conditions of employment be maintained.  [Source: U.S. Department of Labor]

 

iCanConnect campaign underway

Many thousands of Americans who have combined loss of hearing and vision may soon connect with family, friends, and community thanks to the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program. Mandated by the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) established this new program to provide support for the local distribution of a wide array of accessible communications technology.

The FCC is also funding a national outreach campaign to educate the public about this new program.

The iCanConnect campaign will be conducted jointly by Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown, MA, the Helen Keller National Center in New York City, NY, and FableVision of Boston, MA.

iCanConnect wants everyone to know about the free communications technology and training that is now available to low-income individuals with combined hearing and vision loss. From screen enlargement software and video phones, to off-the shelf products that are accessible or adaptable, this technology can vastly improve their quality of life.

iCanConnect seeks to educate people about the availability of communications technology for this underserved population so they can remain safe and healthy, hold a job, manage a household, and contribute to the economy and the community. Information about the new equipment distribution program will be available online at www.iCanConnect.org or by phone at 1-800-825-4595. Additional information is available through the FCC at www.fcc.gov/NDBEDP [Source: Federal Communications Commission]

 

MN-CCD eyeing changes

The Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MN-CCD) will hold two meetings this fall that will shape the future of the organization. The first meeting is 1-3 p.m. Monday, Sept. 24 at Goodwill Easter Seals, 553 Fairview Ave. N., St. Paul.

For more than a year, changes to MN-CCD structure and bylaws have been studied. The organization is considering restricting and is weighing changes to its bylaws. Organizations that belong to MN-CCD are asked to review the bylaws. Any additional changes are due Sept. 10. The full set of proposed bylaw changes will be presented Sept. 24 and then voted on at the MN-CCD annual meeting, which will be held Monday, Oct. 29 at Goodwill Easter Seals. The September meeting will also be a time to hear updates from policy work groups and plans for the 2013 legislative session, as well as an update on restructuring.

The October annual meeting board elections will also be discussed, along with any other disability policy issues.

MN-CCD is a broad-based coalition of more than 100 organizations representing persons with disabilities, providers and advocates, dedicated to improving the lives of people with disabilities. The organization addresses public policy issues that affect people with disabilities by collaborating with others, advocating, educating, influencing change and creating awareness for understanding. Visit www.mnccd.org to learn more about the organization and review the bylaw changes, or to obtain more information about joining MN-CCD. [Source: MN-CCD]

 

Veteran sues over job loss

An Iraq war veteran is suing the city of Rochester claiming disability discrimination after he wasn’t allow to return to his job with the police department. Jeremy Peterson is the son of Rochester’s police chief.

He worked as a community service officer in the police department and was later promoted to police officer.

In a complaint filed in Olmsted County District Court in August, Peterson stated that he suffered hearing loss caused by multiple explosions during his service with the Army in Iraq. KTTC-TV reported that the complaint alleges the city of Rochester discriminated against Peterson by failing to allow him to return to his job as a community service officer when he couldn’t complete requirements to become a police officer.

The city of Rochester hasn’t filed a response yet in the case. [Source: Rochester Post-Bulletin, KTTC-TV]

 

MDI diversifies its clientele

An Iron Range nonprofit organization says it’s successfully weaned itself from its dependence on the U.S. Postal Service. Minnesota Diversified Industries (MDI), which has its home base in the Twin Cities, employs disabled and disadvantaged workers in Grand Rapids and Hibbing.

The Iron Range MDI operations relied on the United States Postal Service for work. But as the Postal Service has struggled, MDI has had to diversify its clients. MDI Vice President Barbara Majerus says diversifying and increasing its customer base, as well as controlling costs has helped reduce its debt by $6 million.

Majerus says MDI has nearly tripled its workforce since the end of last year and now employs 425.

Workers make a variety of corrugated plastic containers, kits and other packaging for business, including plastic mail trays and totes for the postal service, But Majerus told the Duluth News Tribune revenue is projected to double this year, from nearly $13 million in 2011 to $25 million. Majerus said several new $1 million-plus contracts with new and existing customers have boosted revenue. [Source: Duluth News-Tribune, KSTP-TV]

 

 

Medicaid changes are announced

The Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) announced federal approval to implement changes to the way it pays health care providers under the state’s Medicaid program. These changes place increased emphasis on quality of care, health care cost and overall value. The changes were announced Aug. 9.

The Health Care Delivery System (HCDS) demonstration, approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), is another step by Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration to improve the way health care is purchased for Medicaid in Minnesota.

“Minnesota is moving full steam ahead when it comes to reforming our health system so that we pay for quality of care and outcomes for our clients, not just the quantity of procedures,” said Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson. “I’d like to thank our federal partners for their cooperation and support in this effort to provide better care for Minnesotans and greater savings to taxpayers.”

Historically, publicly-funded health care programs in Minnesota have been either fee-for-service (paying providers per procedure) or managed care (paying a health insurance company to provide coverage). The HCDS demonstration projects will contract directly with providers in a new way that allows them to share in savings for improving quality of care and patient experience and reducing the total cost of care for Medicaid enrollees.

In this new model, people enrolled in Minnesota Health Care Programs will receive more coordinated care to improve their overall health, and health care providers will be paid based on the quality of care they provide to their patients and their ability to reduce the cost of care. This encourages providers to be innovative in how they provide care and allows them to focus on the quality of care versus the amount of care they provide.

“A key factor in reforming our health care system is working with doctors, hospitals and other providers to better coordinate care for patients. We need to look at patient care as a team effort with one overall shared goal of a healthy patient outcome,” said CMS Acting Administrator Marilyn Tavenner.

The department expects implementation of the initial demonstration projects later this year. They would include up to 150,000 enrollees in Minnesota Health Care Programs from both managed care and fee-forservice. Department staff is working on final negotiations with the first group of nine providers. [Source: Minnesota Department of Human Services]

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