Regional News – July 2024

Metro Move provides option for riders Will Metro Move address issues that have affected Metro Mobility? That remains to be […]

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Metro Move provides option for riders

Will Metro Move address issues that have affected Metro Mobility? That remains to be seen as the new service got rolling in May.

Metro Move is a new transit service of the Metropolitan Council that is designed to give people who have a disability and are served by a waiver another choice to connect to day support services, jobs and community resources. The service will open up access for those receiving waiver services to reach many communities across the Twin Cities region.

Metro Move will phase in existing Metro Mobility customers attending day support service locations through August 2024. Recurring work and community activity trips can be requested through a lead agency.  Metro Move has partnered with the Minnesota Department of Human Services and its lead agencies to build and design the alternate transit option. The goal is to provide greater independence and access through expanded days and consistent hours of service.

Metro Move serves people who have a disability and are served by a brain injury (BI) waiver, community access for disability inclusion (CADI) waiver, or a developmental disability (DD) waiver. The service links waiver participants to day support programs, work and other community destinations.

Metro Move

Lead agencies will authorize the trips.

There will be no standby trips for anyone using Metro Move. Learn more about the service, its hours of operation and other details by calling 651-602-1900 or email [email protected]

(Source: Metro Moves)

Disability waiver changes raise concerns

People who must move from private apartments and homes into group homes face many loses of independence and choice. Advocates fear that Minnesotans with disabilities will be forced to leave their homes and move into group homes or assisted-living facilities under a proposed state overhaul of disability waivers.

Minnesota is reworking its Medicaid waiver system, used by roughly 70,000 people with disabilities to cover vital services, including employment support, transportation and assistance with such daily activities as bathing, eating and dressing.

The Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) is rethinking the waivers to try to simplify the system and give people “more choice and control over their services.” Department officials said their proposed model would make more money available for the vast majority of waiver recipients.

However, early budget figures have triggered an outcry among some who rely on the aid. They show people living in group homes would be eligible for far larger sums than those in their own homes or living with family. That is seen as “incentivizing institutionalizing people.”

The pushback recently prompted legislators to strengthen requirements that DHS officials collaborate with people who will be affected by the Waiver Reimagine process. But many Minnesotans with disabilities and advocates remain wary.

Minnesota has four types of disability waivers based on needs or diagnoses. They serve those with brain injuries, the chronically ill, people with developmental disabilities or related conditions, and those whose disabilities would otherwise require a nursing facility level of care.

Under the new system, there would be just two waivers. People living in their own homes or with loved ones would get one; those in settings such as group homes and assisted-living centers would get the other.

At the core of many advocates’ concerns is a chart DHS published in 2021 breaking down how much money people living in different settings could receive annually under the reimagined system. The proposed budgets vary depending on a person’s needs, but the range for an adult living with family tops out at $87,298. Those who have their own home could qualify for up to $93,674.

Meanwhile, people living in community residential services, such as group homes, could qualify for up to $210,064.

Those numbers will be updated, DHS officials said. They said the budgets were shaped by the cost and use of services. Historically, people living in settings such as group homes use more service hours, while people living independently use less.

People with disabilities said they are already struggling to piece together the help they need to live in their own homes amid personal care assistant shortages. They worry the proposed waiver structure would result in more providers following the money to serve people in group homes rather than working with those in individual or family residences.

“Waiver Reimagine, as it is designed now, would definitely take disabled people’s rights away, number one,” said Lauren Thompson, 36, a disability rights advocate who has cerebral palsy and has had a waiver for more than 20 years. “Number two, it would be much more expensive for the taxpayers because more people would be pushed into more expensive services.”

Thompson served on the advisory committee for Waiver Reimagine but left amid frustration over a process that she said wasn’t incorporating feedback.

Lawmakers passed the new legislation this session. It mandates that the advisory group must be able to “collaborate in a meaningful way” in the waiver rethinking process and in a revision of MnCHOICES, the state’s tool for assessing people’s needs and determining what services they require to live well.

“We need to fundamentally revamp how we’re doing engagement,” Natasha Merz, the DHS assistant commissioner of Aging and Disability Services, said at a legislative hearing this spring. “We need to hear from people. We need to show them that their input has changed the arc of this project.”

The state is trying to make the waiver system easier to navigate, Merz said. She said officials want more people to be able to self-direct their dollars, meaning they are in charge of a budget and can design a plan to meet their needs and employ workers. They are also trying to create consistency across the state, Merz said.

The state agency had planned to debut the reimagined waiver system in January 2026. It is now eyeing spring 2027 due to delays in the assessment system update, as well as community members’ questions and concerns

(Source: Star Tribune)

Licensing requirements eyed

State officials say a new Minnesota law tightening licensing requirements for classroom teachers will stave off a threat by the federal Department of Education to cut off $219 million in special education funding.  But some education advocates say that the new law goes too far, and will make it difficult for some teachers of color to stay in the classroom.

The law aims to satisfy a corrective action plan with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs. In a May 2023 memo, the federal government warned that Minnesota could lose special education funding if it did not make changes to parts of its licensure system for special education teachers.

The change affects special education teachers with Tier 1 and Tier 2 licenses, which represent alternative pathways to teaching rather than traditional teacher preparation programs. About a quarter of Tier 1 and Tier 2 licenses are held by teachers of color. 

The law will require professional development and mentorship of those teachers; progress toward a professional license; and a three-year cap for special education teachers with a Tier 1 license.  “This is good for the teachers, it’s better for kids because these teachers will be supported and prepared,” said Laura Mogelson, the legislative liaison for the Minnesota Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. “We need to keep teachers in longer and stop this revolving door of underprepared teachers.”

But some education advocates say the new bill is too broad. Josh Crosson, the executive director of education reform group EdAllies, said that while he agreed with OSEP’s direction to the state, the new law went beyond what the federal government required Minnesota to do.

“Our licensing agency keeps changing policies to further and further restrict who can become a teacher, especially in the areas where teacher shortages are the worst,” he said.  A U.S. Department of Education spokesperson said the department was reviewing the legislation to ensure it addressed the “identified noncompliance.” The spokesperson said that the department planned to complete its review by July 1.

State lawmakers passed the bill to preserve $219 million in annual federal special education funding. Last year, the federal government told Minnesota it could ultimately lose this money if it didn’t change its laws regarding special education teachers.

But the law also aims to make sure special education teachers receive appropriate training.

(Source: Sahan Journal)

Child’s death highlights dangers

The body of a missing 4-year-old boy from Hopkins was found in Minnehaha Creek. The child, who had autism, had run from his home the day before. That launched a massive search the first weekend of June.

Waeys Ali Mohamed was found by a searcher, Hopkins Police Capt. Craig Kreiling said.
“We believe this was an accident and that he did drown,” he said. “We will do our due diligence and will work with our partners to determine the exact cause of death.”

Addressing rumors of foul play, Kreiling said, “We have evidence that (he) left the apartment building of his own accord and there is no room to try to blame anybody else right now. This is a horrid, tragic accident from what we can determine.”

Kreiling said it wasn’t clear when the child entered the creek.

Hundreds of people, including volunteers and law enforcement from neighborhood agencies, Ramsey and Hennepin counties and the FBI, helped in the search.

The sad incident marks the second drowning in three years involving a young child with autism. A child drowned a few years ago in an Edina water retention pond.  Drowning is cited as one of the leading causes of death in young children.

(Source: KSTP-TV, Pioneer Press)

A controversial ceremony

Officials with Fairview Health Services and Acadia Healthcare gathered a few blocks north of the state capitol in St. Paul in June for a ceremonial beam signing — a way to highlight the ongoing construction of what will soon be one of the state’s largest purpose-built inpatient mental health hospitals.

The future hospital’s steel girders form a commanding sight at 559 N. Capitol Blvd., but given the project’s politically sensitive history, the absence of public health and state, city or county elected officials from the symbolic signing was notable.

Located at the former site of Bethesda Hospital, the 144-bed Capitol Park Mental Health Hospital will offer inpatient, intensive outpatient and “partial hospitalization” mental health treatment, including services for patients who are ready to leave an acute care setting but who may still need in-hospital services for three to six hours per day, three to five days per week.

“We are all pioneers in this work,” said Jeffrey Woods, an Acadia operations executive and former psychiatric nurse, noting that the Franklin, Tenn.-based healthcare and hospital chain operates 260 hospitals and treatment centers nationally and is now the largest provider of mental health treatment in the country.

Fairview officials said the three-level facility will open next summer at a time when inpatient mental health services are in high demand statewide and many youth and adults have been unable to access needed services.

That said, the hospital — which will not have ambulance bays for emergency transport — has not been without controversy. Citing the need for new mental health beds, the Minnesota Department of Health approved the facility in September 2022 while acknowledging at the time “significant concerns” with its lack of an emergency room.

The Minnesota Psychiatric Society and other mental health experts have raised concerns that many patients will be transferred from other in-network hospitals, allowing for-profit Acadia to effectively cherry-pick the wealthiest patients, leaving poorer, uninsured and harder-to-treat crisis cases to emergency rooms at outside hospitals.

Notably absent from the beam signing on Wednesday were officials from the governor’s office, the Ramsey County Board and Ramsey County Social Services, the St. Paul mayor’s office and the St. Paul City Council, as well as the National Alliance on Mental Illness and other vocal advocates for the mentally ill.

(Source: Pioneer Press)

Prison policy is changing

As of July 1, prison policy is changing to ensure Minnesota inmates, with hearing loss, will get the same critical messaging that hearing prisoners get over the public address (PA) system. This is just one concession of a settlement agreement, following a lawsuit filed by Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid’s Minnesota Disability Law Center on behalf of two inmates — one deaf, the other hard of hearing.  Attorney Sonja Peterson of the Minnesota Disability Law Center said both men at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Stillwater were missing critical announcements necessary for day-to-day living and long-term health needs.

“The prison system dictates when inmates line up at the front of their cell to be counted, eat and get medication,” she said. “If they miss these announcements, which also include time for work, recreation and visitors, they can be disciplined. The impact is not only detrimental to their well-being and rehabilitation, it’s inhumane. It’s like being in a prison inside of a prison.”  Prior to the lawsuit, the Minnesota Department of Corrections, urged by Legal Aid, provided pagers to help corrections staff bridge the communication gap.  “We learned, however, staff were not using the pagers,” said Legal Aid Deputy Director Jenn Purrington. “That prompted us to take legal action.”  The settlement agreement requires the Minnesota Department of Corrections to issue a new policy stating that pages must be made immediately after the PA announcement (except in the case of an emergency); to give a memo to the Stillwater correction officers about the policy; and to detail protocols for training staff, investigating complaints and taking disciplinary action, should staff fail to follow the new policies.

The Minnesota Department of Corrections is also ordered to pay Legal Aid $66K for attorney fees.

(Source: Legal Aid)

Class-action is settled

The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) will pay $3.2 million to settle a class-action lawsuit alleging the state illegally cut short special-education services to as many as 3,200 students.

The suit involved two students whose services were halted on July 1 after they turned 21 years old. It was taken up in 2020 by the Minnesota Disability Law Center, which argued that federal law requires instruction be provided to special-ed students up to their 22nd birthday.

U.S. District Court Judge Patrick Schiltz ruled in the students’ favor last summer, and the two sides commenced talks leading to a settlement agreement filed in May.

Students will not get cash payments but instead are eligible for classes and other supports designed to help them to live independently, said Sonja D. Peterson, staff attorney for the Minnesota Disability Law Center, who cited as examples: “Courses like maintaining your home. Using your bank account,” she said.

Peterson added that the classes are likely to be taught by organizations like the PACER Center and Arc Minnesota, which would be reMDE continued to deny wrongdoing as part of the settlement, but it agreed that students who turned 22 between 2020 and 2023 stood to “benefit most by receiving compensatory services as soon as possible,” the settlement agreement states.

At the time of Schiltz’s ruling, Maren Hulden, then the supervising attorney of the Disability Law Center, noted that the students had been denied services during the COVID remote-learning lockdown.

“Negative impacts for special education students meant their learning was cut in two ways: One, they were denied the experiential settings inherent to transition learning, and two, their eligibility timeframe was less than what federal law requires,” she said in a September 2023 news release.

Hulden now serves as general counsel for MDE.

In its defense, MDE had argued that students with disabilities were treated the same as students without disabilities under state law at the time, and that Minnesota offered traditional secondary schooling to students without disabilities only until their 21st birthdays.

State law has since been changed to comply with the federal law.

MDE now is preparing to release the names of students who may be eligible to take part in the agreement to Continental DataLogix LLC, the firm that will handle the claims.
Students have until July 15 to notify MDE that they do not want their information disclosed or that they object to the agreement. Details are at: https://education.mn.gov/MDE/about/prod084332.

According to the agreement, 20 percent  of the settlement fund, or $640,000, will go to attorneys’ fees and administrative expenses, leaving $2,560,000 to cover the claims being filed. Any funds that remain six-plus months after the distribution period will be split equally between Arc Minnesota, the Autism Society of Minnesota and the Multicultural Autism Action Network, the agreement states.

(Source: Star Tribune)


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