After admonishing Minnesota's largest state agency for failing to comply with a landmark court agreement, a federal judge significantly expanded court oversight of state reforms designed to improve the lives of thousands of people with disabilities.
In a harshly worded ruling issued Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank said the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) has repeatedly failed to comply with a 2011 court agreement aimed at moving disabled people from institutional homes to less restrictive settings and reducing the use of physical restraints on patients in state-operated facilities.
Frank granted broad new powers to a court monitor overseeing the state's implementation of the agreement. The federally appointed monitor will now supervise the timely implementation of the settlement, and will have the authority to develop specific compliance standards and outcome measures.
Frank also extended the court's jurisdiction over the settlement until Dec. 4, 2016, effectively placing the state's disability services under federal oversight for another two years.
In an Aug. 22 letter to the court, Deputy Human Services Commissioner Anne Barry said the state has "come a long way" in meeting its objectives and continues to work closely with the court monitor to make further changes. For example, the state has begun to implement an ambitious series of reforms, known as an Olmstead plan, for ending the unnecessary segregation of people with disabilities. In addition, more than 6,000 state employees have been trained in person-centered planning and other elements of the settlement.
The Department of Human Services also closed a troubled state facility in Cambridge, where staff had allegedly abused and restrained developmentally disabled residents for such minor infractions as touching a pizza box.
"We have made progress in a number of areas but as today's order shows, progress takes time," Barry said.
In a recent report, the federal court monitor said county social workers across Minnesota have not been trained on how to provide personalized support for disabled people moving out of institutions, as required under the settlement. In some cases, the court monitor said, disabled people in state-licensed facilities faced unnecessary restrictions that prevented them from living independently.
Over the past two years, Frank has repeatedly expressed frustration with what he called the "sluggish pace of implementation" of the settlement by state authorities.
"Continued implementation delays can no longer be tolerated," Frank said in his order. He added, "Multiple admonitions to the DHS have been insufficient to secure effective action by the DHS to close the significant gaps between its stated intentions and actions."