Regional News -- July 2021

Regional News -- July 2021

Laws change for assisted living

With Minnesota’s new assisted living licensure law set to take effect August 1, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) encourages families and residents at assisted living-type facilities to ask their current care providers about their plans and any impacts to the care provided beginning in August. Assisted living providers will also need to notify families and residents if they will no longer provide certain services, or if contracts are updated to meet license changes.

Approximately 60,000 Minnesotans live in 1,800 assisted living-type facilities that mostly serve seniors. Most of those who live in an assisted living-type facility, dementia care or housing with home care will not experience significant changes in their services due to the new licensing program. However, some residents may see changes by this August, and in some cases those changes may make it necessary for residents to find a new service provider or even a new place to live.

Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm said the best approach for residents and their families is to connect with their care providers as soon as possible to learn how the new licensure program may impact the providers’ services and plans going forward.

“It is an important time to discuss your care because providers are currently making decisions about the type of services they will be offering beginning August 1,” said Malcolm. “We are working with providers to make sure residents get all the information they need in a timely fashion, but it’s a good idea for residents and families to have these discussions with providers and ask questions now so they are prepared to manage any possible changes.”

Minnesotans who live in an assisted living-type facility should look for a notification from their provider in the coming weeks, or they should contact their provider to learn whether their provider intends to get the assisted living license needed to keep operating after August 1. Current assisted living-type providers must apply by June 1 to be eligible for Minnesota’s new assisted living license.

“The new licensure structure protects the foundation of assisted living in Minnesota, including consumer choice, independence and the ability to age in place while enhancing transparency and regulatory accountability. We encourage patience through this generational change, giving caregivers, regulators, families and residents time to adapt to and complete this significant transition,” said Gayle Kvenvold, president/CEO of LeadingAge Minnesota.

Any comprehensive home care provider not planning to provide home care services after August 1 must give a written notice by May 31 to every resident who receives services. Likewise, a housing with services provider who does not intend to continue to offer housing after Aug. 1 must notify tenants in writing by May 31.

“No one contemplated then that we would be crafting the rules for this new framework in the middle of a pandemic, which has made the transition more complex with less time to prepare,” said Patti Cullen, president/CEO, Care Providers of Minnesota. “Despite all the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and a worse-than-ever workforce shortage, we remain fully committed to the successful implementation of the new assisted living rules in our communities.”

These changes could impact residents living in housing with home care services, which may affect a wide array of services.

The groundbreaking reform legislation passed by the Minnesota Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Tim Walz in 2019 is designed to improve the safety and quality of care in long-term care in Minnesota. There will be two types of assisted living licenses beginning August 1, Assisted Living License and Assisted Living License with Dementia Care

The two licenses replace the combined Comprehensive Home Care License and the Housing with Services registration, which will be discontinued after July 31.

“The Alzheimer’s Association is always available to support families as they consider any change in care for someone living with dementia,” said Sue Parriott, Alzheimer’s Association Minnesota-North Dakota Chapter CEO. “We understand that these transitions may be stressful, but we believe this new licensing system will provide a more stable and safe care environment for residents in all assisted living settings.”

The new assisted living reforms set higher expectations for providers and create more protections for people living in assisted living establishments. It will also create clear pathways for accountability and better services for residents of assisted living facilities.

“We want Minnesota families and residents to be aware of the positive changes coming related to the licensing of assisted living facilities,” states Kristine Sundberg, executive director of Elder Voice Family Advocates. “We now have a substantial improvement in safety and care standards and added protections on the way that will help keep our parents and spouses better protected from neglect and harm.”

For more information, please visit the Assisted Living Licensure webpage.

(Source: Minnesota Department of Health)

Bed shortage affects youth

Scores of Minnesota children and adolescents with mental health problems are suffering in hospital emergency rooms for days or even weeks because they have nowhere to go for more intensive care. Parents of children as young as 7 or 8 describe agonizing waits in emergency departments that are not equipped to treat people with serious mental illness and where prolonged stays can be traumatic. In some cases, even the emergency rooms are full, and children experiencing mental health crises are being consigned to stretchers or chairs in crowded ER hallways.

The practice of keeping psychiatric patients in emergency departments while they await hospital beds —known as “boarding” — has existed for decades, but hospital administrators and child psychologists say it has reached a crisis point amid rising levels of anxiety, depression and other stresses brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

Many ER departments across the state are seeing a surge in mental health-related admissions among children, as disorders that were left untreated over the past year are now boiling over as youngsters return to school and attempt to re-establish routines and social connections. Mental Health Minnesota, a nonprofit advocacy group, said the number of children under age 18 screened for mental health problems soared last year to 7,882 screenings, up from 1,664 in 2019.

“The water was already high, and now the dam has broken,” said Kristen Wiik, manager for neuropsychology and the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Clinic at Hennepin Healthcare.

At Minneapolis-based M Health Fairview, one of the state’s largest health systems with 10 hospitals, emergency room visits by children and adolescents in mental health crisis have surged 18% this year over pre-COVID levels.

On any given day, as many as 20 children are boarding in its hospital emergency departments or pediatric units while awaiting inpatient beds where they can receive more intensive care. Most children are discharged within days, though one child on the autism spectrum recently had to wait eight months for a bed at a residential treatment center, officials said.

Hospital systems like M Health Fairview have begun deploying multidisciplinary teams of psychologists, counselors and social workers to help children boarded in ERs, but demand can be overwhelming for emergency departments already stretched thin by COVID-19 patients.

Parents and mental health advocates have expressed concern that prolonged boarding in hospital ERs could have lasting consequences by discouraging young people with mental illnesses from seeking treatment.

(Source: Star Tribune)

Disability claim is settled

Lake States Lumber Inc. of Duluth will pay $100,000 to resolve a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The suit alleged that an employee of the Duluth company took a medical leave to undergo heart surgery, and when he returned to work with no work restrictions, he was reassigned to a different job, which he held for just nine days before his dismissal. The EEOC contends the company’s actions violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Under the terms of the settlement, Lake States Lumber provides not only financial relief, but also will be bound by a two-year consent decree that stipulates that in the future the company will not require employees to be released without restrictions or to be identified as 100 percent healthy in order to return to work. Lake States managers and personnel also will be required to undergo ADA training, and the company is required to report any disability discrimination complaints that might arise to directly the EEOC during the two-year term of the decree.

“It is an unfortunate reality that even when an employee who has been on disability leave is able to return to work without any restriction at all, many employers continue to regard that employee as unable to work in the same capacity as prior to the leave,” said Gregory Gochanour, an EEOC regional attorney, in a statement. “The consent decree sends the message that no type of disability discrimination, including this variety, will be tolerated in the workplace.”

(Source: Duluth News-Tribune)

Employment programs announced

Two programs to help people with disabilities remain in= the workforce have been announced.

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) was awarded a Retaining Employment and Talentz After Injury/Illness Network (RETAIN) Phase II grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. Minnesota was one of five states to receive such a grant.

The four-year $19,518,509 grant supports MN RETAIN, which helps employees stay at or return to work more rapidly when an injury or illness impacts their ability to work. Its goal is to help keep 3,200 Minnesotans connected to the workforce over the next four years.

“Now more than ever, we need to do all we can to keep Minnesotans connected to the labor force, and MN RETAIN does just that,” said DEED Commissioner Steve Grove.

The program connects ill or injured workers and their employers with case managers. MN RETAIN can offer assistance for up to six months, helping employees navigate complex systems, find accommodations for disabilities as needed, and return safely to work.

MN RETAIN is a collaboration between DEED, the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry (DLI), the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), the Governor’s Workforce Development Workforce Board, Workforce Development, Inc. and Mayo Clinic.

Another help for people with disabilities seeking employment is for people with mental health conditions. The U.S. Department of Labor announced seven states, including Minnesota, have been chosen to participate in its new initiative to help improve employment outcomes.

The Labor Department’s Advancing State Policy Integration for Recovery and Employment initiative provides Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Florida, Indiana, Oklahoma and Virginia with tailored and targeted assistance, such as expertise to help create and implement a plan that encompasses multiple systems like mental and behavioral health, Medicaid, vocal rehabilitation, workforce and education.

(Source: Minnesota DEED, U.S. Department of Labor)

Stolen prosthetic is recovered

When Parker Hanson’s vehicle was broken into and his prospective arm was stolen, he thought it was gone forever.

Hanson was once a Hawley prep standout, cranking out homers in high school and on the American Legion ball field, all without a left hand. He’s now playing at Augustana University in Sioux Falls.

“My roommate came in, woke me up before class, and he goes, ‘Our cars were broken into,’’” Hanson said.

Someone rifled through his car and stole his prosthetic arm from a backpack. He thought it was gone forever until workers at a Sioux Falls recycling plant spotted it in a huge pile of trash. Fundraising was launched to pay for a replacement. And then there was a surprise.

“I woke up and got a text, and I was shaking from excitement,” Hanson said. “It was pretty cool. Seeing what my arm went through was pretty funny. The guy who found it was pretty excited. (He) had a big smile on his face and shook my hand,” he said.

They called Hanson down to the recycling center and, in an emotional moment, presented the stolen prosthetic arm to him.

Since news broke of the stolen prosthetic, Shriner’s Hospital announced it was getting Hanson a new prosthetic arm. The money Hanson raised is going back to Shriner’s and another nonprofit for children with disabilities.

Hanson also reached out to some of those kids who want to play catch with him. “I want to make someone’s day better. If I can make one person’s day better every day, that is a good day for me,” Hanson said.

(Source; Associated Press)

Organization has new name

A southern Minnesota organization dedicated to helping empower people with disabilities and their families has branched out on its own under a new name.

What was formerly known as The Arc of Freeborn County is now known as LIFE Center of Freeborn County. LIFE stands for learning, inclusion, fun and empowerment.

Jessica Walters, program director for the organization, said about a year ago, the state chapter of Arc Minnesota changed the way it was operating, requiring that all local donations be channeled through the state office. Programming would also change.

Walters said the state chapter would have had control over how the Freeborn County organization spent its money and conducted its programs. Board and members voted against joining the state chapter and to disaffiliate as a whole from Arc about a year ago.

The Arc has had a presence in Freeborn County for 64 years, she said.

The Freeborn County group voted earlier this year to rebrand and the new organization was formed. Its mission states, “LIFE Center welcomes, values, respects and supports people of all abilities. Our mission is to advocate passionately while compassionately delivering programs that expand opportunities, empower people and enrich lives while having fun.”

Becky Rognes, interim director for LIFE Center, said all funding will now be able to stay locally. For the near future all of the programming will stay the same. Leaders are hoping to modernize some of the programs and bring in more younger members, through events such as family fun days and other activities. Walters said many people do not realize the facility serves all ages.

The renamed organization hosted an open house this spring.

(Source: Albert Lea Tribune)

Social workers join with police

A new program will embed mental health professionals within law enforcement agencies in Duluth and Carlton County.

The Human Development Center, a nonprofit that provides a variety of mental health services for adults and youth across the region, will supply the services of two full-time staff members, said CEO Ben Hatfield. A psychiatric nurse will join the Duluth Police Department’s existing Mental Health Unit, while a therapist will work with agencies throughout Carlton County.

“We want to try to do early intervention, avoid hospitalizations, avoid unnecessary incarceration and get people connected to services early,” Hatfield said. “Across the nation, we’re seeing police reform and the need for mental health care. It’s a great idea to try to address concerns and get people to the professionals before a crisis starts.”

The program is the latest in a series of efforts by local police to improve their response and outreach to people experiencing mental health issues, but it’s a first-of-its-kind partnership with the behavioral health center. Staff will be employed by HDC, but functionally work inside the departments, responding alongside officers and providing follow-up services to clients.

Duluth for several years has operated its Mental Health Unit, which currently includes two sworn officers and two embedded social workers funded by St. Louis County and the Center for Alcohol and Drug Treatment. But Carlton County has not previously had the same resources available.

“We have reached out to Duluth to see what their position entails, but it’s going to look different here,” Sheriff Kelly Lake said. “We don’t have the population that Duluth has, so maybe we can respond to a wider variety of calls that don’t necessarily involve an immediate crisis. We’re hoping to build it to fit the needs of Carlton County. It’s going to be a work in progress with a lot of tweaking as we go and we figure out what fits for us and what is most beneficial to our residents.”

(Source: Duluth News-Tribune)

Mental health facilities’ closure creates gaps

Cambia, a closed facility
Cambia, a closed facility

The loss of two facilities that provided intensive in-patient mental health treatment for young people is a huge concern for families and advocates, and adds to the care crisis.

Parent company Hills Youth and Family Services closed Cambia Hills in East Bethel in June. Hills Youth and Family Services in Duluth was to close as of July 2.

The Duluth facility’s closure meant 34 young people had to be placed elsewhere. It had been open since 1909, starting as a facility to treat juvenile offenders.

The East Bethel facility opened in spring 2020. Seventeen young people had to be placed elsewhere or sent home. Between the two facilities closing, more than 100 people lost their jobs.

Hills CEO Leslie Chaplin cited high fixed costs and an inability to get a state rate increase as factors in the closings. The COVID-19 pandemic has also had an impact.

Chaplin took the helm at Hills in March and said the residential programs couldn’t continue without more state funding. Such programs are usually paid for by the state, as insurers don’t provide coverage.

The Duluth facility was licensed for juvenile justice and mental health programs. It has 40 children in day-treatment programs, and hopes to continue those and the community-oriented Neighborhood Youth Services, Chaplin said. Day and community programs are funded differently from the residential program.

Cambia Hills closed its doors June 11. Facility leaders contend that a payment dispute with state regulators is their biggest hurdle to climb, which subsequently has led to the closure.

“After many years of finding the right community to build in, construction starts and delays, opening the doors during a pandemic (which brought about staffing challenges and affected the census and thus, our ability to pay for this facility), licensing issues, and bad press, we are forced to close our doors,” a message on the Cambia Hills website stated.

Its leaders said that the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) didn’t give a rate adjustment to the facility’s bondholders. Bondholders had been funding the operations since December 2020. The bondholders reached their limit of $1.5 million in additional funds to keep the building open. The deadline for the rate adjustment was May 1.

The lack of resources for Cambia Hills had a direct impact on the Duluth facility, forcing it to close as well.

Advocates said the closings are a big loss, as Minnesota hospitals report a rise in emergency room visits from children in psychiatric health care needs. Some must wait for days or weeks before they can get into treatment facilities or hospitals.

“These are kids with extremely high needs,” Sue Abderholden, executive director of NAMI Minnesota, told the Star Tribune. “I don’t know what they expect these families to do. Once again families are left in the lurch with no options for their kids.”

DHS points out that the East Bethel facility was investigated in the past for maltreatment. Cambia Hills was fined $5,000 for a July 2020 incident when neglect occurred. In October 2020, DHS placed the facility’s license on conditional status for one year due to its “noncompliance with Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facility (PRTF) licensing variance requirements.”

They reached a settlement agreement in January and Cambia Hills had been working to meet the conditions of the settlement.

DHS Assistant Commissioner Gertrude Matemba-Mutasa provided the following statement on the matter to KSTP-TV:

“Our focus right now is the health and safety of the children served by Cambia Hills. We are doing everything we can to assist Cambia Hills in providing an appropriate transition to another facility that can meet residents’ needs. By providing only two days’ notice of intent to close, Cambia Hills is violating its obligations under its license and state contract.”

“While this situation is unfortunate, it does not diminish the need for psychiatric residential treatment facilities, nor does it lessen our commitment to see this level of care become available to more Minnesota children.”

Kirsten Anderson, executive director at AspireMN, an association of mental health providers, said at least two residential treatment programs are working to become licensed in the state as psychiatric treatment facilities. Those require more staffing and medical direction by psychiatrists. Anderson said the programs are receiving daily phone calls for placements, even though neither is open.

(Sources: KSTP-TV, Star Tribune, Duluth News Tribune)

Metro Transit rolls out accommodations

Twin Cities area transit riders who have visual disabilities can utilize a new app to navigate travel. The Aira app is undergoing a six-month free trial for users. Metro Transit recently launched the trial.

Through December 7, Metro Transit is paying a $25,000 fee to the company to allow train and bus riders to use the service at no cost.

Aira is a subscription service for which “explorers,” as customers are called, pay a fee to access a live operator who watches a video stream from the user’s cellphone camera. Through a video chat, the agent can help them read schedules and bus destination signs, direct them to the proper bus stop or complete a transfer, and route them around construction while providing a description of what’s in the camera’s field of vision.

“Wayfinding is a known customer complaint for those who are blind or have low vision,” said Bre Grand, a Metro Transit project manager. Offering the service for free “is part of the commitment we have to improve accessibility for customers.”

About 10 percent of Metro Transit riders have a disability, but it is not known how many have visual disabilities, she said.

Ken Rodgers, who serves on Metro Transit’s Transportation Accessibility Advisory Committee, said Aira has been a game changer. After losing his sight as an adult, he had to relearn how to get around. Sometimes he had to have a person who could see escort him to his destination. Other times, he missed his bus simply because he didn’t know it was there. With Aira, it’s like he can see again, he said.

“Every bus in the world stops on Nicollet Mall and figuring out which bus to get on is impossible,” said Rodgers, who commutes from his home in northeast Minneapolis to his job with the state in St. Paul. “I would put out my cane and get as close to the bus and wait for them to call out the bus number, but you’d still miss it and would not know it. That is a common occurrence for blind people.”

Metro Transit riders will have unlimited use during the pilot. To access the app and avoid fees, riders can click on the Product section of the app and select Metro Transit from the list. That will allow them to connect with an agent.

The service is available 24 hours a day. Grand said Metro Transit will gather data on usage, seek feedback from focus groups and conduct a broad electronic survey to gauge whether to continue the free service when the contract expires.

(Source: Star Tribune)

Thrift store meets a need

A new thrift and consignment store called Northern Lights Community Action has opened in Cloquet. It not only fills a need in a community that lost two other thrift stores over the past three years, it also benefits people with disabilities.

“We knew that there was no place for people to come in and get things at a low cost,” said building owner Heather Wright. “We opened this truly as a nonprofit to just help the community.”

Wright also owns NorthStar Community Services in Cloquet, which provides services for people with disabilities. She previously worked for 10 years in the Carlton County Public Health and Human Services Department.

Jackie Meyer, the executive director of the nonprofit, was in charge of Cloquet’s Salvation Army for 17 years.

“So I’m making a full circle back up what I used to do,” said Meyer, who has known Wright her whole life. “We’re all just a big team. … People are so happy to have a thrift store back in our community. We’re helping so many people.”

The thrift store currently employs seven staff members, most of whom are people with disabilities. They also are seeking employment services through NorthStar or other local agencies, and gaining experience at the new store.

People in need of assistance can use the store’s voucher program, Wright said. The voucher program utilizes donations from different community agencies.

Everything in the store is labeled with a colored dot that corresponds to the price in a simple pricing guide, ranging from 25 cents to $20. Adult T-shirts, for example, all cost $2.

Northern Lights Community Action is intended to be more than just a store. Wright said she hopes to host events such as backpack, bike and winter clothing drives.

(Source: Duluth News Tribune)

Street name eyed for change

A drive to rename Minneapolis’ Dight Avenue is rolling ahead, with support from a petition push and the council member whose ward includes the street.

Dight Avenue in south Minneapolis was named for Charles F. Dight, a physician who served four years on the City Council. The naming took place shortly after he left office in 1918. Dight served one term and after leaving office, became well-known his strong support for eugenics.

Eugenics is the study of how to arrange reproduction within a human population to increase the occurrence of heritable characteristics regarded as desirable and to “improve” the human race. It historically has targeted people with disabilities and minority groups.

In the 20th century, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler championed eugenics in order to build a master race and to justify horrific treatment of Jews, people with disabilities and minority groups. Eugenics has been discredited as unscientific and biased.

Dight was a fan of Hitler’s championing of eugenics. Dight also drove the creation of the Minnesota Eugenics Society in 1923 and championed a forced sterilization law that was passed by the Minnesota Legislature in 1925.

The petition to rename Dight Avenue has gathered 750 signatures since June 1 and has the support of City Council Member Andrew Johnson, whose ward includes the street.

Noah McCourt, executive director of the Minnesota Disability Justice Network, said he started the petition because the neighborhood is diverse and the name could be hurtful to residents.

“In a community that’s been traumatized, making some of these more simplistic strides to address the historical and generational trauma that people face, I think, is a really positive step forward,” McCourt said.

Johnson said he is pursuing a name change, and his staff is drafting a letter to residents of the area seeking their feedback. “Having a street named after you is a huge honor,” Johnson said. “I think we have an obligation to regularly consider how we are honoring people.”

(Source: Star Tribune)

Eagan opens accessible playground

In Eagan’s Woodhaven Park, a new, accessible Destination All Play playground is getting rave reviews. The $2 million playground is believed to be the first of its kind in the twin Cities region.

“Yeah, it’s a lot of fun, and it’s amazing,” said Eagan resident Anna Kimmel, who uses a power chair to get around.

“The fun part is when you watch a kid play, you’ll see where they gravitate,” said Jay Webber, the designer. “The Americans with Disabilities Act has a law out there that governs how we design, but we actually go farther than that.”

There is wheelchair access almost everywhere. Studded ramps take guests smoothly from the parking lot to the playground itself. Raised play areas — normally a barrier for children with disabilities — have ramps of their own.

There are basketball hoops of almost every height and a pulley ride that has a special strap-in chair that makes it accessible for everyone.

“It’s a safe, accessible place space,” Eagan Mayor Mike Maguire said. “You can play a melody or play a bank shot, do anything you want in here.”

And then there’s the specially made rubber ground covering designed to prevent injuries from falls.

“The number used to be 80-85 percent of all injuries from falls off of the playground,” Webber said. “If there’s not adequate surfacing under the play equipment, you’re going to find more injuries.”

Even with the recent heat wave, plastic and rubber materials keep the playground cool. Slides and seats are pastel-colored to keep them from getting too hot to the touch. The cushioned ground areas are tan-colored, cooler than say, green or black.

There are touch panels that make animal sounds that allow children to learn and grow.

“All the kids in the community now have one place they can come,” Webber said. “Regardless of whether they’ve got mobility issues, sensory issues, or are able bodied kids to be able to come and play together in one place.”

(Source: KTSP-TV)

Red River organization to move

The Red River Human Services Foundation is set to move into their new south Fargo office come August. The new office is currently under construction at a cost of $5.6 million.

The new office will serve two main purposes, CEO Tom Newberger said: unifying the Red River Human Services Foundation’s Fargo offices under one roof and providing better services to the residents they support.

In total, the Red River Human Services Foundation supports 565 residents in both Fargo and Wahpeton, Newberger said. The foundation provides lifetime care, he said, assisting residents with intellectual disabilities from birth through death.

“We purchased the property a little over a year ago. The purpose of that is to co-locate all of our offices across Fargo,” he said. “We’re co-locating everyone just to create some efficiencies and to meet our specific needs.”

RRHSF spent a year scouting possible locations across the city but could not find a perfect fit, Newberger said. “None of them really met the needs of the people with intellectual disabilities,” he noted.

The new facility will do just that, allowing RRHSF to “meet the specific needs of the people we support,” Newberger said.

All of RRHSF’s Fargo staff will work in the new three-story building. Staff include case workers, job coaches, individuals who care for residents at their homes or apartments and other pre-employed staff which work in schools.

Highlights of the building’s first floor are a gymnasium which will be heavily-utilized by those with intellectual disabilities as well as an activities center. The activities center will allow staff to help people accomplish “whatever their desires and dreams are,” Newberger said, be it relaxing inside watching television or movies or taking part in outdoor physical activities such as camping or bicycling.

The second floor will house more programs in addition to in-office case workers who assist with day-to-day tasks such as writing checks, making appointments or paying bills. The third floor will be home to accounting, human resources and information technology staff.

(Source: Fargo Forum)

Got milk? Assistive device can help

Orion Yang is an 8-year-old second grader in the St. Paul Public Schools, described by his mother as outgoing and independent. But his independence has been compromised by a physical disability affecting the right side of his body.

“He wanted to open a milk carton on his own, and I started to do some research on it and I couldn’t find anything that would make any sense at all,” said Debra Godfrey, one of Yang’s teachers. The she saw that Harding High School was seeking ideas for a technology class.

Working with the teachers, Harding High School senior Nuege Xiong designed and 3D printed a little yellow device for Yang.

“The first thing we had to do was decide what do we want it to do what do we want to accomplish,” Xiong said.

Yang calls the device his “yellow opener’ and uses it for milk cartons, juice and fruit cups. It has four handles and a cup holder. His right hand or arm holds it in place while he opens the containers with his left hand.

“As a teacher, I don’t think it could be any better, my heart is overflowing, my tears overflowing with joy,” Godfrey said.

The device has become quite popular, and about a dozen students in six different schools are using them. Requests for more are made each day.

“It makes me feel so happy for him because I can only do so much for him to have Nuege create such a great device to help him so he can be more independent that just makes me so happy and I’m super thankful,” said Ka Yang, Orion’s mother.

The inventor and youngster recently met. “It brings me a lot of joy to see that he can use it and it allows him to help open a lot of stuff that we take for granted, so it brings me a lot of joy,” Xiong said.

(Source: KSTP-TV)

Cyclist raises TBI awareness

William Galloway and his recumbent tricycle have crisscrossed the United States for more than three years, to raise awareness of traumatic brain injuries. He stopped in the western Minnesota community of Marshall this spring.

“It’s a life I never thought I’d be living,” Galloway said. But although it could be physically tough, he couldn’t give up. “I’m on a mission.”

Galloway is currently on his ninth trip across the continent. The New Jersey man said he hopes to raise awareness of traumatic brain injuries, and the issues that people recovering from TBI face.

“I’ve always been a bicycle nut, ever since I was a kid,” Galloway said. But several years ago he was hit by a drunk driver and hospitalized with a serious head injury. Recovery was hard, and Galloway said he was frustrated with being in assisted living and group homes. He didn’t like the medications he was prescribed.

Communicating and finding employment were challenges. When he started his cycling journey, Galloway was headed for a clinic in California where he hoped he could get a different kind of treatment.

“I started trekking towards that clinic,” he said. But he’s stayed on the road since then, towing his gear in a trailer. Galloway said he’s currently on his third bike. By now, he’s been to every U.S. state except Alaska and Hawaii, he said.

“I just can’t give up. Shelters are not really my cup of tea,” Galloway said.

Galloway said he’s faced plenty of good and bad out on the road. He talked about times he’s faced bitterly cold weather and hypothermia, or been run off the road by other vehicles. But he’s also met people who have helped him out, or donated money or time to keep his bike in working order.

“I met a lot of great people. I wouldn’t have made it this far without them,” Galloway said.

Galloway said his overarching goal is to help get the word out about how brain injuries affect people. He said he hopes people can learn “Not to treat everyone the same.” Every brain injury and disability is different, he said.

(Source: Marshall Independent)

Mural promotes inclusion

Love for All Mural

A new mural in a historic Minnesota town is inclusive for people of all abilities. The “Love for All” mural was painted on the side of a two-story building at the intersection of Third Street and First Avenue in Faribault. The mural is colorful and welcoming for the entire community — even those who can’t physically see it or hear about its design and significance.

The mural artist’s name is Jordyn Brennan. She was selected by city officials through an application process. The city wanted the work to focus on inclusion while pulling inspiration from the town’s rich history and diverse demographics.

“I hope that when people look at the mural they feel a sense of pride for the town,” Brennan said. “When I get to be out in the community, with the community and for the community, that’s so rewarding.”

The mural can be understood in English, American Sign Language (ASL) and Braille. On top of that, there will be an option for people to enjoy a video by scanning a QR code, which will describe it in ASL, Spanish and eventually Somali. The flowers that are painted on the mural also have connections to the area.

Minneapolis resident Brennan works at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.

“Jordyn [Brennan] knocked it out of the park consulting with our academies for the blind and the deaf on developing her proposal and incorporating them into the mural,” said Kim Clausen, community development coordinator for the city of Faribault.

Faribault has been home to the Minnesota State Academies for the Deaf and Blind for more than 150 years. Brennan worked closely with the schools to ensure the mural’s inclusivity.

“It brings a really good feeling of unity — the different colors, the hands, the Braille, the different hand shades. It really feels like we are part of the Faribault community,” Terry Wilding, superintendent of schools with the academies, said.

Wilding has not been able to hear his entire life.

“This project feels very different because they truly reached out and involved us from the very beginning,” Wilding said. “They got our feedback as part of steps of the project and they showed they really care about our community and that’s the big difference here that we noticed in this mural project.”

(Source: KSTP-TV)