Regional News -- March 2021

Regional News -- March 2021

Riding Metro Mobility? Remember your mask

Metro Mobility requires everyone who is boarding, riding or exiting a paratransit vehicles to wear a mask that covers both their nose and mouth for the entire trip. Wearing masks that completely cover the mouth and nose reduce the spread of COVID-19.

A new federal regulation issued by the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control and the Transportation Security Administration went into effect February 2 and will remain until at least May 11, 2021. Metro Mobility has required facial coverings onboard since May 2020, following orders from Gov. Tim Walz and guidance from the Minnesota Department of Health.

Metro Mobility drivers will provide riders with a free mask if a passenger is not wearing one or does not have a mask.

If a disability makes it impossible or limits the ability to safely wear a mask, the passenger must have a documented exemption in the file. Anyone without an exemption noted on file who refuses to wear a mask after one is offered, will be denied a ride.

To learn more about exemptions or to ask questions about the new regulations, contact the Metro Mobility Service Center Phone: 651-602-1111 TTY: 651-221-9886 or MetroMobility@metc.state.mn.us.

As of March 1, Metro Mobility will stop providing free rides to people working in Twin Cities-area health care facilities. That is to accommodate a growing number of paying customers who are returning to the system.

The paratransit service saw its busiest week since the pandemic began between January 31 and February. 6. During that time paying customers took 23,916 trips,

Add in free rides for nurses, doctors, aides and anybody else who works in a hospital or clinic, plus a few hundred grocery deliveries, and Metro Mobility buses provided 33,837 rides that week, according to service operator Metropolitan Council.

Ridership was down 80 percent early in the pandemic, which freed up capacity to offer free rides to health care workers. As demand from regular riders rides, coupled with pandemic social distancing regulations, more of the small buses have been running to meet demand.

About 2,900 health care workers collectively have taken about 228,670 free rides since they began in April 2020. Those workers will still be able to book trips on Metro Mobility, but starting March 1 they must pay the same fare as regular riders. Fares are $3.50 per ride or $4.50 during rush hours.

The change was made as more health care workers have access to the COVID-19 vaccines.

(Source: Metro Mobility)

Slur provokes outrage

An attorney for Anoka County Commissioner Matt Look has sent cease-and-desist letters to two women who have publicly accused the commissioner of harassment, claiming the women made slanderous statements online about Look. They in turn are upset about his use of a slur that draws on negative connotations of people with disabilities.

Joseph Field, an Anoka estate planning attorney, sent two cease-and-desist letters to both Danylle Peardon and Rachel Keller, weeks after the women shared their allegations against Look with the Star Tribune.

Peardon, of St. Francis, and Keller, of Ramsey, said that Look sent them harassing or threatening personal messages following public interactions with him on Facebook. Police reports have been filed.

What has sparked outrage among disability advocates is Look’s use of the slur “libtard.”

The Anoka County DFL unanimously passed a resolution at its monthly meeting in February condemning Look for his use of the term “libtard,” which Look used in text messages to other commissioners after Peardon’s allegations first surfaced.

The county DFL also called on the board to condemn Look’s use of the word and set a code of ethics “to make clear that such language has no place in the business of Anoka County.”

The harassment allegations have brought Look under scrutiny, with some residents calling on him to resign and for the commissioners to adopt a code of ethics to prevent such conduct in the future. More than 400 people have signed an online petition calling on him to step down.

Look has responded to the ongoing criticism by denouncing the harassment allegations and claiming instead that the two women are harassing him. He said at a recent board meeting that he will not step down from the position he’s held the past decade, most recently winning re-election in November with 64 percent of the vote.

(Source: Star Tribune)

LSS takes over operations

Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota (LSS) assumed operations on February 1 for the Senior Companion Program in North Dakota, assuring that essential support through this service continues for older adults. The change comes as a result of Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota’s decision to close due to significant financial struggles in their affordable housing development services.

“Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota provides a natural home for the Senior Companions program, given its experience in delivering the same services in an adjacent state,” said Bob Otterson, President and CEO, Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota. “I’ve been in the sandwich generation, and I know firsthand the importance of personal connections for our older adults who feel isolated. I’m so pleased that our colleagues from Minnesota will continue this help to our neighbors in North Dakota.”

The Senior Companion Program, funded by AmeriCorps Seniors, matches trained companion volunteers age 55 and older with other older adults to provide weekly visits and assist with errands, grocery shopping and transportation to appointments to help older adults remain healthy and in their homes. Program volunteers also report being healthier and happier as a result of their service.

Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota offers a wide variety of services to older adults in Minnesota, including the Senior Companion Program – a service they have operated statewide for 30 years. Currently, 223 volunteers provide weekly support and friendship to 873 older adults in Minnesota. North Dakota’s program will add 370 older adults and 71 volunteers in 32 counties. Four employees from the North Dakota program will be joining Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota to continue services in North Dakota.

“When we learned that Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota decided to close its doors, we immediately reached out to see how we could offer assistance to support individuals who rely on essential care,” said Patrick Thueson, CEO of Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota. “We’re glad to be able to continue the important work of Senior Companions in North Dakota.”

(Source: LSS of Minnesota)

Teaching minor is offered

The University of Minnesota Duluth and Assistant Professor Daehyoung Lee is now part of the effort to increase the number of local physical education teachers who are also licensed to teach students with developmental and physical disabilities. The federal government mandates that all public schools offer the option to students with disabilities, but it doesn’t require teachers to become certified in the area in order to do so.

“It’s possible you can teach (developmental adapted physical education) without a license, but the problem is there’s a lack of teachers who are really qualified to teach,” Lee said.

Of the 21 colleges in Minnesota that offer physical education degrees, only six of them offer developmental adapted physical education minors.

UMD hired Lee to develop the minor so that the university’s physical education students can also receive licensure to teach students with special needs. UMD began offering the minor again this semester after the program ended roughly 30 years ago.

Lee said that while students studying physical education are the only ones who can qualify for the add-on licensure, he’s hoping to open the courses up to everyone.

“I’m trying to open my door to our pre-physical therapy, occupational therapy and special education teachers,” Lee said. “They still have to understand what kinds of disability-related challenges these students have.”

A big part of the curriculum is learning about medical conditions common among people with disabilities. For example, Lee said, roughly a quarter of people with Down syndrome have a condition called atlantoaxial instability.

“If they have pressure on their neck, then what’s going to happen is spinal cord injury. A lot of teachers aren’t aware of that condition,” he said. “So if you do not know about that information you can actually find a lot of troubles.”

In addition to teaching how to prevent harm when teaching physical education to students with disabilities, the program seeks to make physical activity accessible and attainable to all people throughout their lifetime.

(Source: Duluth News-Tribune)