Regional News in Review - July 2019

Direct support crisis studied

Organizations across Minnesota that supply direct support professionals (DSPs) for people with disabilities and elders are all too familiar with staff shortages and high turnover.

The University of Minnesota, in conjunction with the state, set out to collect concrete data on the problem. The University of Minnesota’s new study, in conjunction with the Minnesota Department of Human Services, surveyed the agencies that support DSPs, as well as the workers. This produced two different final reports.

It was found that the average hourly rate for DSPs across the state is less than $12 an hour, which contributes to high turnover rates.

For full-time DSPs, fewer than 60 percent get paid time-off and less than 40 percent get paid sick leave. And, of the DSPs surveyed, 90 percent said they left for a job that pays more and nearly 70 percent left for a job that offered better benefits.

“In Minnesota, for every worker that’s employed on January 1st of a year, by December 31st, about 40 percent of them have left their positions,” said Amy Hewitt, director of the U of M’s Institute on Community Integration (ICI).

“If there was anything that was surprising it’s the congruence. The workers see the problem and their employers and organizations see the problem,” she said. It is hoped that the new data will give lawmakers the tools to make decisions in the next legislative session that could drive better pay and cheaper health insurance.

The problem of high turnover with DSPs hit one Bloomington family really hard when agencies told them they simply didn’t have any workers to help them, so they had to take matters in their own hands.

“For us, it feels really personal. This is our daughter, this is just our beloved child,” Cindy Reed told KSTP-TV.

Eighteen-year-old Eva Reed loves to dance and do crafts. She’s creative and enjoys being active in the community and opened up about what it’s like to live with cerebral palsy.

“It’s, um, pretty great, because it’s fun, and sometimes it’s not,” Eva said.

Cindy Reed said the family was forced to find someone on their own to help Eva because high turnover caused a shortage of staff at agencies around the state.

The Reed family said Hennepin County grants cover the cost of care for the DSPs they hire, but it’s not enough for all of the in and out-of-home care they need.

Read the full report here.
Read the worker survey here.
(Source: KSTP-TV)

Access lawsuit is settled
A disability rights activist has settled with the city of Chaska for blocking his access to the city’s public social media accounts.

Waconia resident Noah McCourt received a $1,005 settlement. He is policy director of the Minnesota Autism Council and a member of the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities.

The city was ordered to unblock his access, revise social media policies and train staffers on First Amendment applications to social media accounts. McCourt will have his legal fees reimbursed.

McCourt was blocked from the Chaska Police Department’s Twitter account and from making comments on the police Facebook page.

McCourt said he criticized the Chaska police for “unnecessary roughness and aggression” when dealing with people with disabilities. He had also posted that Knight had “a very large ego.”

The city and McCourt agreed on an offer of judgment, under which the city agreed to the payment and policy changes in order to avoid lengthy litigation. City officials are reviewing the “terms of use” policies on those accounts, said Kevin Wright, the city’s communications manager.

“For me it was never really about the money,” McCourt said. “It’s more like people just deserve to be treated equitably.”

More such cases are likely to arise as governments navigate the intersection of speech and freedom of information laws and social media, said Don Gemberling, spokesman for the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information. A private entity, including Twitter and Facebook, can delete content or block users for any reason. But government is required by the First Amendment to permit most speech. (Source: Star Tribune)

Hospital construction underway
Construction is officially underway on a new psychiatric hospital in Willmar that will provide specialized treatment to children and teens from across Minnesota who have severe mental illness and behavior disorders.

DHS Commissioner Tony Lourey joined state lawmakers, mental health professionals and advocates, city and county officials and community leaders at the ceremonial groundbreaking in June for the Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health Hospital. The hospital opens in 2020.

“This new hospital is an investment in the health and futures of children who are facing some extraordinary challenges,” said Lourey. “It will provide greater safety for patients and staff; a more inviting, comfortable and therapeutic atmosphere; and more privacy and dignity to the children treated here.”

The $10 million hospital replaces an existing facility that is outdated. It will serve more children. The current hospital must limit admissions, causing long waiting lists or forcing families to other states for treatment.

The 18,000-square foot hospital features three wings and 16 private patient rooms, each with its own bathroom. Patients can be grouped by age and condition. Personal retreat space and ample play areas are planned.

Children ages 4 to 18 with complex mental illnesses and behavior disorders who cannot be treated in their home communities will be served. In many cases, patients have multiple diagnoses that range from brain and behavior disorders to psychiatric and traumatic stress conditions.

“Getting the right care at the right time in the right place is crucial for children struggling with serious mental illness,” said Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, a leading advocate on behalf of people with mental illness. (Source: Minnesota Department of Human Services)

Lawsuit filed over firing The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit in June, claiming a Duluth lumber company terminated an employee because of his disability.

The EEOC alleges that BlueLinx, formally Lake States Lumber, discriminated against forklift driver Eric Stauber when they terminated
his employment due to his disability.

According to court documents, Stauber required heart surgery in November. On February 10, 2016, Stauber was released by his doctor to return to work with no restrictions. He submitted a doctor’s note to BlueLinx saying as such.

When Stauber returned to work he was placed in a different job and restrictions were imposed on his work, court documents said. About nine days later, Stauber was told by his managers that he could no longer perform any jobs at their facility and was terminated, court documents said.

The EEOC is asking for Stauber to be compensated for past and future wage loss as well as medical expenses and retirement or pension contributions not covered in BlueLinx’s employee benefit plan. It is also asking that Stauber be compensated for past and future emotional pain, suffering inconvenience and mental anguish. All amounts would be determined at trial.

BlueLinx is a manufacturer and wholesale distributor of building products that specializes in servicing retail building material dealers. The company has locations in Aitkin, Brooklyn Park, Duluth, Schofield, Wis., and Sparta, Wis. When asked for a comment on the lawsuit, BlueLinx said as a matter of policy they do not comment on pending litigation. (Source: Duluth News-Tribune)

Resident dies after falls Operators of a St. Louis Park nursing home did little to keep a resident from repeatedly falling within a few months’ time before an injury from a fall killed him, according to Minnesota Department of Health investigators.

The Estates at St. Louis Park “did not comprehensively assess, determine causal factors or implement new interventions to prevent additional falls,” according to details of the recently released state investigation. The ongoing negligence occurred until the man’s death in January, the investigation found, despite the resident’s care plan noting that he had a history of falling.

Talia Fletcher, the nursing home’s administrator, told the Star Tribune that her facility of 150 to 155 clients has “corrected the concerns … and the Health Department agrees with our corrective measures.”

She added that the facility now has systems in place to aid residents in falls. Those actions include assessing each resident upon admission of the risk of falling and, as warranted, analyzing each incident of a fall, and training all staff in that area of care.

The resident, who required assistance with his daily needs because of various health issues including a moderate cognitive impairment, was known to staff to be susceptible to falling. Staff knew he was unwilling to use his call light when having a difficulty. He fell several times, often as he moved from his bed to his wheelchair. One fall resulted in a broken hip. The Estates of St. Louis Park is operated by Mankato-based Monarch Healthcare Management Group. (Source: Star Tribune)

Lawyer sentenced to prison
Former Minneapolis attorney Paul Hansmeier, who was involved in lawsuits centered on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), has been sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment for a different scheme. Hansmeier was sentenced in June in connection with his multi-million effort to threaten people for downloading pornographic videos online.

Hansmeier and co-defendant Paul Steele admitted to the scheme in August 2018. They created sham entities to share pornography online, then would track down and threaten people who downloaded the videos.

They would file copyright lawsuits and subpoena Internet service providers for the identities of people who downloaded the films. They would then harass people with calls and letters, saying they could either pay a $3,000 settlement fee or face greater penalties.

The U.A. Attorney’s Office said the fraud took place between 2011-2014. Hansmeier was also ordered to pay $1.4 million in restitution.

Previously Hansmeier worked with a nonprofit group that threatened to sue businesses around the state if they didn’t provide proper access for people with disabilities. (Source: KSTP-TV)

Winter walkways are eyed
Summer officially began June 21, but Minneapolis leaders are concerned with improving the conditions of the city’s nearly 2,000 miles of sidewalks for the coming winter.

Most households inspected by the city during a pilot program last winter shoveled their sidewalks within 24 hours of a snowstorm, according a report presented to a City Council committee in June. But council members and some pedestrians say the city still has work to do for sidewalks to remain clear of snow and ice during the season.

“There is a real human cost to this,” said Council Member Andrew Johnson. “It has a huge impact on quality of life for a city that essentially half the year has snow or cold weather.”

Last winter, in order to rely less on vigilant neighbors, the city sent inspectors to look for households that failed to shovel their sidewalks after snow fell, as required by city ordinance.

Inspectors visited about 27 percent of the city across seven snowfalls, according to the report. On average, they found that 96 percent of properties had shoveled their sidewalks in time, with relatively little disparity across the city.

City contractors cleared the sidewalks of 558 households that received a notice of violation from inspectors, according to the report. The city has assessed property owners $169,525 for removing snow this year, a figure that will likely drop as people continue to repay the city. (Source: Star Tribune)

Staff raises safety concerns
Nurses, social workers and other staff at Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center say they no longer feel safe there. To drive home the point members of several unions recently conducted informational picketing. They were joined by several state lawmakers and met with DHS Commissioner Tony Lourey.

“That’s part of informational picketing, to let the community know that the nurses and the staff inside can’t do their job with the way things are,” Carrie Mortrud of the Minnesota Nurses Association told KARE.

The nurses walked in their traditional red MNA tee shirts alongside members of the MAPE government employees union in blue tees and AFSCME government workers union in their green shirts. At times during the six hours of picketing members of other unions joined them in support.

“The concern is mostly for safety not only of our staff, but the safety of our patients and the safety of visitors that come into our hospital,” said Jennell Pettit, a MAPE member who works at the treatment center. Staff said they are seeing more dangerous patient behavior.

Ongoing security concerns came to a head in May when a female nurse was attacked and knocked unconscious by a patient. Investigators said the patient attacked the nurse when she denied his request for Tylenol, suggesting he try a cold pack first. The nurse was hospitalized for several days and is still recovering, according to friends. (Source: KARE-11)

Housing provider files suit
A company that provides sober-living homes is suing the cities of Anoka and Cambridge for limiting the number of people in recovery who can stay in their properties.

One Love Housing LLC is fighting both cities in court after city officials denied its applications that would increase the number of potential clients seeking help with alcoholism and addiction. Both cities have pointed to local ordinances limiting the number of unrelated people allowed to live in homes together.

The St. Paul-based company provides housing for people in recovery for substance abuse and people with disabilities. In the lawsuits, the company is citing discrimination against the current residents under the federal Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Fabian Hoffner, general counsel for the Minnesota Association of Sober Homes, said these living situations give residents the opportunity to “learn how to live in a community again.” He said the homes are unique because tenants have to be sober for at least a month, attend at least three recovery meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous each week and follow rules including not using drugs or alcohol while staying there. The house does not offer treatment or counseling services.

“People who live in Anoka and Cambridge want to live in their own communities while they get better so that’s why new sober houses are moving into these places,” Hoffner said.

It’s not the first time One Love Housing has gone to court over its sober-living homes. It is currently in court with the city of Cambridge.
(Source: Star Tribune)