Regional News in Review – September 2017

Camp Winnebago pulls up stakes After 50 years of serving campers with disabilities throughout the region, Camp Winnebago in Caledonia […]

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Camp Winnebago pulls up stakes

After 50 years of serving campers with disabilities throughout the region, Camp Winnebago in Caledonia is closing. Its board plans to sell the property this fall, according to an announcement posted on the camp’s website and Facebook page. Former campers and staff members have expressed sadness about the closing.

During its history, the camp hosted campers from around the world. “At this time, we plan on keeping lower camp seasonal sites and facilities operational through the remainder of this camping season. But starting immediately, we will no longer book events for the conference center or cabins and will be canceling any existing reservations and providing refunds,” according to the statement issued by the camp’s board of directors.

During its peak, Camp Winnebago hosted about 450 campers a year. This season, there were only 135. Expenses rose while income couldn’t keep pace.

“We did try partnership opportunities with other people who have the same mission as (Camp Winnebago),” said Jane Palen, board secretary.

“They didn’t pan out.”

“When the camp started 50 years ago, people with disabilities were really separated from the mainstream and they needed their own place,” Palen said. “It’s not a bad thing that the population is becoming more and more integrated in education and in recreational opportunities. There’s not that separateness that used to be there.”

Proceeds from the camp’s sale will be used to pay off creditors. Any amount beyond the camp’s financial obligations will be donated to another non-profit that serves the same population as the camp. (Source: Rochester Post-Bulletin)


Social Security increase eyed

Americans who rely on Social Security can expect to receive their biggest payment increase in years this January, according to projections released by the trustees who oversee the program. But that doesn’t mean the increase is large, at just 2.2 percent, or about $28 a month for the average recipient.

More than 61 million retirees, disabled workers, spouses and surviving children receive Social Security benefits. The average monthly payment is $1,253.

Social Security recipients have gone years with tiny increases in benefits. This year they received an increase of 0.3 percent, after getting nothing last year.

The program trustees also continue to warn that the long-term financial problems of Social Security and Medicare, the federal government’s two bedrock retirement programs, are still a concern. Medicare provides health insurance to about 58 million people, most of whom are at least 65 years old.

Unless Congress acts, the trust funds that support Social Security are estimated to run dry in 2034, the same year as last year’s projection. Medicare’s trust fund for inpatient care is projected to be depleted in 2029, a year later than last year’s forecast.

If Congress allows either fund to be depleted, millions of Americans living on fixed incomes would face steep cuts in benefits.

Neither Social Security nor Medicare faces an immediate crisis. But the trustees warn that the longer Congress waits to address the program’s problems, the harder it will be to sustain Social Security and Medicare without significant cuts in benefits, big tax increases or both.

President Donald Trump has promised not to cut Social Security or Medicare, though his budget proposal for next year would reduce Social Security’s disability benefits by nearly $70 billion over the next decade. The savings would come from encouraging, and in some cases requiring, people receiving the benefits to re-enter the workforce. (Source: Associated Press)


Settlement reached with family

A Duluth assisted living facility has settled the wrongful death lawsuit brought by the family of a 74-year-old resident who died after wandering away from the care center in 2013.

The Wesley Residence and parent company At Home Living Facilities of Hermantown resolved the civil suit brought in February 2016 by Mark Gerard, just before an August trial. Gerard’s mother Dale had dementia. She was missing for nine months before her remains were found in the Lincoln Park area.

Earlier this year a judge earlier this year ruled that Gerard’s death came as a direct result of leaving Wesley. The facility has acknowledged liability for her death. The jury only would have been left to determine monetary damages owed to the Gerard family.

Settlement terms are confidential, which is typical in civil cases. But attorney Andrew Gross, who represents the Gerards, said it was an “amicable resolution.”

“When the family came to us, what they wanted was for the facility to accept responsibility and didn’t want this to go ignored,” Gross told the Duluth News Tribune. “They wanted to feel that they were pursuing justice and not have this forgotten. Through what we’ve accomplished here, we’ve achieved those goals.” The Gerards had a service plan for their mother and had used a tracking bracelet.

Gross said a goal of the lawsuit was to ensure that other families do not face similar situations when they put a loved one in a care center. His law firm, Kosieradzki Smith, specializes in cases involving nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

Representatives of Wesley have never spoken publicly about the lawsuit, and attorney Robyn Johnson did not return a call seeking comment on the settlement. (Source: Duluth News-Tribune)


Skyway regulations to change

Proposed new skyway regulations, including a midnight closing, could change in mid-September. But the changes could face a legal challenge from people with disabilities.

The changes went to a St. Paul City Council public hearing September 6 at City Hall. The proposed rules, which arose from a task force process, are already meeting push-back from people with disabilities who use the skyway system.

They have retained an attorney to make the case that skyways should remain open until 2 a.m. as they are now. The rules were introduced by the City Council August 16. New code of conduct signs posted throughout the system and city-sanctioned video surveillance plans would also be among the changes.

The city’s skyway system has come under fire in recent months for increased crime and behavior issues, especially late at night and early in the morning. Fights and panhandling are issues, as is littering and vandalism

The owners of the Railroader Printing Building on Mears Park began locking their doors early due to ongoing problems with loitering, drug use, public urination and crime. Despite being ordered by the council not to do so, the early closings continued. The dispute was sent to a legislative hearing officer recently.

But the skyways also provide needed access for the downtown area’s growing number of residents and to workers. Some residents contend that especially critical in the overnight hours.

Ward Two Council Member Rebecca Noecker, after hearing concerns from many constituents, worked with downtown residents, business owners and city staff on the possible changes. She also cochaired the group that worked on ordinance amendments. (Source: Villager, St. Paul)


Cell phone app is unveiled

St. Paul police have become the first department in the country to use a new cell phone app that aims to de-escalate encounters with those who have disabilities not easily visible, such as autism, dementia or mental illnesses. Twin Cities application developer VariAware created the VITALS app, which stands for Vulnerable Individuals Technology Assisted Location Service.

App users or their caregivers can upload personal information onto the app, including medical conditions individuals have, treatments they might need or tips on how to calm them down. Users are then given a small transmitter that sends signals to nearby phones.

“It’s going to make the world so much more accessible for people with disabilities, people with dementia,” said Jillian Nelson, who is on the autism spectrum. “It’s going to be able to speak for me even if I’m in a situation where I lose my ability to communicate effectively for myself.”

Officers can activate the app and will be alerted whenever they come within about 30 feet of someone with a transmitter. They can then access information about individuals which can help facilitate safer interactions. “Cops are really excited about that, to have that information,” said officer Robert Zink, who worked with developers on the app due to his own interactions as an officer. He also has a son on the spectrum. “If you were to touch (my son) or grab him the wrong way, you might have a fight and I don’t want to see anything bad ever happen to him.”

The department has signed a two-year contract with VariAware. The VITALS transmitters cost between $9-$15. The app also costs $9.95 a month. Autism Society of Minnesota is working to develop grants to help families and at-risk adults offset the monthly expense. (Source: KARE 11)


Wilderness Health program praised

A health care initiative that has helped Minnesota save nearly $213 million and achieve better health outcomes for people enrolled in Medicaid and MinnesotaCare is seeing successes in Two Harbors, where 13,636 patients have been served through the program at Wilderness Health.

Wilderness Health is a collaborative of nine health care providers located in Northeastern Minnesota. They joined the Minnesota Department of Human Service’s Integrated Health Partnerships (IHP) program in 2015. The partnership aims to improve health and reduce the cost of care.

Human Services Assistant Commissioner Nathan Moracco recently visited one of Wilderness Health’s members, Lake View Hospital and Clinic in Two Harbors. “By working together, we strive to continually develop and implement new and better ways to meet the health care needs of this region – and the IHP programs have helped us target our efforts,” said Cassandra Beardsley, Wilderness Health’s executive director.

Drivers of Wilderness Health’s IHP success include enhancing access to services from a variety of health care providers through telehealth and contracting; using analytical tools to integrate data, then identifying and acting on opportunities for coordinating care; identifying patients with high emergency room utilization and linking them to primary care providers; and exploring opportunities to reduce opioid prescribing and enhance access to treatment for opioid abuse.

Statewide, IHPs now encompass 21 provider groups and more than 462,000 enrollees. Legislation approved during the 2017 session will help DHS build on its significant progress toward accountability, costs savings and better health outcomes through IHPs. (Source: DHS)


Deaf man seeks jury accommodations

When he received a summons to serve on a southern Minnesota grand jury in late 2015, Mark Valimont was eager to comply. But Valimont, who is deaf, soon learned that he had been excused from duty after requesting a sign language interpreter to help him participate.

Now Valimont is suing the state, its judicial branch and others in U.S. District Court, alleging that his involuntary excusal amounted to discrimination. He also wants the judge to require that Minnesota court staff be trained for such cases in the future.

In a federal civil complaint, an attorney said Valimont told court officials he didn’t want to be excused from grand jury service. But the court “did not correct its error,” according to Rick Macpherson III, an attorney with the Minnesota Disability Law Center who took on Valimont’s case pro bono.

Valimont is calling for training for district court judges, administrators and staff in charge of selecting people to serve on Minnesota grand juries. He’s also asking that juries be provided with American Sign Language interpreters “or other appropriate auxiliary aids requested” and for changes to juror questionnaires to avoid similar confusion in the future, Macpherson said.

The Minnesota Judicial Branch officials issued a statement: “The Minnesota Judicial Branch is committed to ensuring equal and equitable access to the court system, which includes ensuring that people with disabilities can participate equally in jury service.”

“This is not a case where the court appears to have a policy that affirmatively discriminates,” Macpherson said. “It appears to us that the court system as a whole … [has] a policy to allow folks with disabilities to be on grand juries and something happened here where that didn’t get implemented.”

The Minnesota Judicial Branch website advises prospective jurors to contact their county’s jury office if they need “special accommodations, such as a sight or sign language interpreter, hearing amplification, or special seating.” (Source: Star Tribune)


Special needs clothing line launched

Target is the first major retailer to launch a line for special needs children. The clothing line was announced in August. The clothes will be outfitted with “sensory processing sensitivities.” That includes pieces with heat transferable labels in place of tags, as well as flat seams and graphic tees designed to minimize discomfort.

The clothing is part of the Cat & Jack line of garments for children. The selection now is limited but that is expected to change. According to their announcement, Target says that in the fall, “We’ll expand Cat & Jack even further to include adaptive pieces to help address the needs of children living with disabilities.” The limited selection of cat & jack sensory-friendly pieces in sizes xs-xl (big kids) and 2t-5t (toddler) exclusively at Prices range from $4.50 to $7.

The pieces were inspired by designers’ own children who have autism. Clothing for children with sensory issues has been criticized as not being stylish. A volunteer team worked on the clothing design issues, with a focus on making the clothing attractive as well as functional. (Source: Target)


Caregiver fraud is alleged

A New Ulm man allegedly was driving a truck cross country at the same times he was being paid to care for a person with disabilities. Daryle Jay Hansen, 55, was charged in August in Brown County District Court with three felonies for theft and forgery.

Hansen falsely claimed he provided personal care assistant services for five to seven hours per day from August 2015 through March 2017, according to the criminal complaint. The charges allege Hansen fraudulently collected more than $32,000 in net income from the government while he worked for Abbey Care.

A Brown County investigator found Hansen also worked full time as a driver for a trucking company and regularly was on the road at the same time he claimed to be working as a personal care assistant.

When questioned, Hansen reportedly claimed he brought the person he was caring for with him in his truck. The investigator reportedly informed Hansen he had records indicating the care recipient had used his food assistance program debit card in New Ulm at the same times at which Hansen claimed his charge was traveling with him. Hansen reportedly said he sometimes left his charge at home when the man was in poor health. (Source: Mankato Free Press)


Northwest provides combination of care

Northwestern Mental Health Center is breaking new ground in mental and chemical health care in northwestern Minnesota.

The center, which serves Kittson, Marshall, Red Lake, Polk, Norman and Mahnomen counties, is designated as a Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCBHC). CCBHCs are a new pilot program that not only brings together chemical and mental health care, but coordinates a person’s total health and social service needs, including physical health care. In short, CCBHCs serve as a “one-stop-shop” for both adults and children who have trouble otherwise getting the help they need.

“We have to put the needs of people first,” said Wilson, who oversees chemical and mental health services for the state. “By offering a wide range of services, Northwestern Mental Health Center is doing just that.”

In the past, a person with a mental illness would need to contact several different agencies to obtain various services, and rarely can someone obtain both mental health and substance use disorder treatment through the same agency. CCBHCs change that, offering a range of coordinated services such as primary care screening, crisis mental health services and case management in addition to mental and chemical health care.

Minnesota is one of eight states selected by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to pilot this new model.

For Northwestern Mental Health Center, becoming a CCBHC was a natural extension of its already wide range of services. “We are excited to be able to offer this CCBHC services to our community,” says Shauna Reitmeier, CEO of Northwestern Mental Health Center. “We truly believe this is the future of mental and substance use disorder care.” (Source: DHS)


Mental health crisis center eyed for Chaska site

Ridgeview Medical Center, in the southwest Twin Cities suburbs, is seeing more and more emergency room patients with a mental health diagnosis. This is why Ridgeview proposed a mental health crisis center to replace the Marie Steiner Kelting Hospice Home in Chaska. The hospice closed in June due to lack of funding.

The crisis center would have 12 rooms and could potentially solve the problem of residents going as far away as Rochester and Mankato to seek treatment – which are the closest centers. Lisa Gjerde and Noah McCourt are two of nine members on the Carver County Mental Health Advisory Council. They support the proposal Gjerde is the chair of the council and has been involved for eight years now. “We look at a lot of different topics, like lack of transportation and beds as well as crisis intervention with law enforcement in the county,” she said. She said patients can wait for days before a bed becomes available somewhere.

“We’ve had a need for a crisis facility for a long time – sometimes residents are even going across state lines for help,” McCourt said. Carver County has gotten better at addressing mental health needs in the county but they still have a long way to go. He believes this is an opportunity to bring education into schools and the out in the community. “The county is always putting out the fire, a focus should be made on preventative care,” he said.

Town hall meetings are being held to discuss the proposal. (Source: Sun Patriot News)


New school is applauded

Pankalo, a combination of Greek words for “complete” and “beauty,” is open in the Northeast Metro Intermediate School District. Pankalo was planned carefully for students who have complex special needs. That means lots of natural light, softened acoustics and classrooms that can quickly be adapted to students’ changing needs.

District Superintendent Connie Hayes notes that school environment plays an important role in educating students on the autism spectrum, with cognitive and developmental delays or with emotional and behavioral disorders because many of them are sensitive to light and sound.

Pankalo’s curriculum will have an arts focus that encourages students to showcase their creativity in a calming atmosphere. “This is really a marriage between a behavioral health care setting and a school setting,” Hayes said of the Lake Elmo school, which opens in September.

Northeast Metro is a collaborative of 14 districts that stretch from St. Francis to South Washington County; it enrolled about 800 students last school year. The $21 million Pankalo school was paid for with member districts’ funds designated for school infrastructure.

The new schools were built because staff struggled to serve students in a traditional school setting. The district also is in the process of revamping a high school it operates in Little Canada.

Pankalo has capacity for about 130 but expects to enroll about 80 this fall. Students will be broken up into four “neighborhoods,” each with five classrooms and five to seven students per class. (Source: Pioneer Press)




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