Regional News - January 2022

Regional News - January 2022

Access issues raised at university 

Hamline University students with disabilities are raising concerns about access issues on the St. Paul campus, claiming institutional ableism, barriers and inaccessibility. One student told the Oracle student newspaper that she is transferring due to problems with access. 

Students claim inaccessible facilities, lack of advocacy and institutional ableism. Elevators and door paddles go unrepaired. Students who need first-floor dorm rooms get placed on higher floors. 

Max Lakso is a disabled first-year student who was initially able to secure some accommodations through the Residential Life and Disability Resources offices. However, he said that throughout the semester, he has had bad experiences with the Hamline administration. Others said they have experienced ableism and struggled to get accommodations. 

“People forget that I’m disabled because I don’t have a wheelchair, I don’t have a cane,” said Kimia Kowsari, a Hamline sophomore with cerebral palsy.  

Dean of Students Patti Kersten acknowledges this inaccessibility. “Hamline is the oldest campus in the state of Minnesota and yes, there are buildings that are not fully accessible to someone with limited mobility; however, arrangements are made to ensure that all programs and offerings of the university are accessible … Hamline provides all reasonable accommodations.”  

The university has an online degree program and disability services to help students. 

“I’ve experienced ableism all my life … structural ableism exists here on our campus, as it does in many parts of our society, but we are making progress towards a more accessible campus for all,” Director of Disability Resources Steve Anderson said. 

(Source: Oracle) 

Residents sue over evictions 

A group of tenants with disabilities has sued a Newport landlord, claiming they were evicted illegally.  

The 45-page lawsuit was filed in Washington County District Court by the nonprofit Housing Justice Center, on behalf of six residents of the Wings of Newport. They allege fraud, retaliation, exploitation of vulnerable adults, and violations of the state’s Human Rights Act and Deceptive Trade Practices Act. 

They’re asking for the court to block landlord Christopher Onken from evicting them, impose a fine against him and appoint an administrator to oversee the building. They also want the services promised when they moved into the apartment complex.  

Onken has countered that he is continuing to work with tenants and hasn’t filed eviction notices. He needs to have apartments vacated so repairs can be made, to the tune of about $100,000. About 30 tenants were asked to move so repairs could be made. 

The four-story, 200-unit Wings building opened in September 2020. Some tenants with disabilities moved in with need to use services paid for Community Access for Disability Inclusion (CADI) waivers. The waiver program allows states to get Medicaid matching funds for the services, and to support people who would otherwise need to live in institutions. 

A change earlier this year to the state’s licensing regulations forced Onken to file for a new type of license, one that would see the building’s units go from 100 percent assisted and supported living to just 25 percent.  

(Source: Pioneer Press, Star Tribune) 

Minneapolis crisis unit hits the streets 

Minneapolis launched its long-awaited behavioral crisis response program in December, prepared to deploy unarmed mental health professionals to certain emergencies rather than police. 

Two-member teams can now respond to 911 calls about behavioral or mental health-related crises to provide crisis intervention, counseling or a connection to support services. 

The city’s Office of Performance and Innovation developed the program as part of the City Council’s 2020 Safety for All Plan. It uses money originally budgeted for Minneapolis Police Department to fund alternative approaches to addressing public safety. In July, the office awarded Canopy Mental Health & Consulting a two-year, $6 million contract to provide the staff for the teams. 

The program was scheduled to launch in August, but faced delays. 

“By using a design process that requires all solutions to problems be co-built with residents, who are also the end users, we are confident that we are now providing another alternative police response that will be trusted, impactful and supported by the people that need these services,” said Brian Smith, director of the Office of Performance and Innovation. 

911 dispatchers will decide whether an incident is eligible for such a response. The news release said the teams won’t respond to incidents involving firearms or violent behavior, and police will be sent only if the dispatcher determines a need to clear the scene or the response team requests assistance. 

Part of what the community wants, he said, is 24-hour service from the response teams. As of Monday’s launch, two mobile units will operate 7:30 a.m. to midnight, Monday through Friday. Each unit consists of two Canopy-provided responders. 

Smith said Canopy is hiring additional staff so that the city can eventually offer 24-hour service. As of early December, the provider had a staff of two supervisors, a program manager and 14 responders. 

Minneapolis residents can recognize the behavioral crisis response teams by their casual, navy blue uniform: a T-shirt that reads “behavioral crisis response,” all capitalized, and a matching quarter-zip pullover and beanie, featuring the Canopy Roots and city logos. 

(Source: Star Tribune) 

Minnesota’s medical cannabis program adds edibles  

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has announced that it will approve infused edibles in the form of gummies and chews as a new medical cannabis delivery method in the state’s medical cannabis program. 

The new delivery method will become effective August 1, 2022. A rulemaking process that will outline requirements for labeling, safety messaging, packaging, and testing will launch this month. Current permitted delivery forms include pills, vapor oil, liquids, topicals, powdered mixtures and orally dissolvable products, like lozenges. 

“Expanding delivery methods to gummies and chews will mean more options for patients who cannot tolerate current available forms of medical cannabis,” said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm. 

Coming in March 2022, registered medical cannabis patients will also be eligible for dried raw, smokable cannabis, which was approved by the 2021 Minnesota Legislature. Rulemaking for dried raw cannabis is also currently in process. 

No new conditions were added this year. As in past years, MDH conducted a formal petition and comment process to solicit public input on potential qualifying medical conditions and delivery methods for medicine. Since 2016, petitioners have requested anxiety disorder or panic disorder as a qualifying medical condition. Each year it was denied due to lack of clinical evidence and the desire to avoid any unintended consequences. This year at the request of Malcolm, the MDH Office of Medical Cannabis conducted an in-depth review, which included a research review of anxiety disorder as a qualifying medical condition. Ultimately the addition was not approved due to a lack of scientific evidence to support effectiveness as well as concerns expressed by health care practitioners. 

When the Minnesota Legislature authorized the creation of the state’s medical cannabis program, the law included nine conditions that qualified a patient to receive medical cannabis. Since then, the list of conditions has grown to 17. According to state rules, the commissioner of health each year considers whether to add conditions and delivery methods. 

(Source: Minnesota Department of Health) 

Providers highlight staffing shortages 

Organizations that offer disability support services are desperate for help, recently signing onto a newspaper editorial outlining their plight. One of the organizations highlighting the care crisis is Residential Services, Inc. (RSI), which is located in Duluth, Virginia and North Branch. 

If RSI had full staff, it would employ 550 people. Right now, they have 440. That’s meant waiting lists and major adjustments for families.  

“When you depend on other people to help you with your day-to-day living, the lack of people in the workforce right now presents a real challenge,” said Jon Nelson, executive director of RSI.  

Direct support professionals, or DSPs, help people with all kinds of disabilities do all kinds of things, from getting dressed in the morning to managing their money.  

Nelson said the staffing issue has reached a crisis level. But it began before the pandemic. The way he describes it, “The state built this industry on poverty-level wages.”  

The state sets rates, so organizations like RSI don’t have as much say in what they can pay workers.  

“And then COVID came, and it just blew up in our face because what we were expecting to come over the next few years came in one year,” Nelson said.  

Amanda Clark feels the crunch. She is the program coordinator for RSI’s in-home family and respite care. She arranges for children, teens, and young adults who live at home to be cared for every other weekend to give their full-time caregivers a break.  

“I’ve had moms and dads that have had to quit their job or … all their vacation time has been spent covering the shifts that we’re not able to,” she said.  

“We’ve got a large group of very committed and passionate staff who love what they do,” he said. “They do it because they love it. They love the people they’re working with. And it just pains me to see how much we’re stretching them.” 

And if the staffing problem continues to worsen, the alternative is concerning. 

“People would have to move back home if they’ve got a home to go to. Or if they don’t have a home to go to, where would they go? And that’s a big question,” Nelson said.  

He said nursing homes used to be considered a fallback. But with nursing home staff also stretched thin, he doesn’t see that as a viable option.  

(Source: WDIO TV)