11 Minnesota nursing homes in need of greater oversight

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Federal officials identified 11 Minnesota nursing homes as being in violation of health and safety regulations, prompting tighter oversight of their practices.
The Minnesota homes are among a list of 400 nursing homes nationwide that the U.S. Senate Committee on Aging determined are in need of closer scrutiny, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.
The federal agency Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services named the facilities, noting patterns of health and safety violations and a need for tighter oversight. Undignified living conditions, holes in walls and a resident found wandering outside confused were the violations federal officials found.
“We believe it is the tip of the iceberg,” Kristine Sundberg, of Elder Voice Family Advocates, said. “Light is being shed on it. Consumers are becoming more aware they don’t have to put up with such subpar care.”
The 11 facilities represent 3% of the state’s 375 nursing homes that serve about 40,000 residents. Nine of the listed facilities have not previously been publicly identified by CMS as having problems that would trigger tighter federal scrutiny.
U.S. Sens. Patrick Toomey and Bob Casey lead the Senate committee. They’ve been critical of federal regulators for not releasing more information about troubled skilled nursing care facilities.
After CMS agreed to provide the broader federal list, they praised the decision but urged the agency to continue to provide information to consumers about facilities that are not meeting the standards.
Monarch Healthcare Management took over operation of one of the named facilities — the Emeralds in St. Paul’s Cathedral Hill neighborhood — after a 2018 inspection found numerous violations, including poor upkeep of the interiors of residents’ rooms, improper labeling and storage of medications and residents who were able to leave the facility unattended.
“We came in there knowing there were a lot of changes that needed to be made,” said Marc Halpert, chief operating officer of Monarch, adding that he’s working to improve several troubled facilities including one in St. Louis Park that is also on the federal list.
Other facilities on the federal list had similar problems, according to recent health inspections. They include violations of residents’ rights to live with dignity and protecting them from abuse.
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Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press, http://www.twincities.com

Minnesota governor to hand over power during knee surgery

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz will temporarily transfer his powers and duties to Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan while he undergoes knee surgery Thursday.
Walz’s office says he will be under general anesthetic while doctors repair a torn meniscus in his left knee — a common injury among runners.
As required by state law, the governor sent letters Monday to House and Senate leaders declaring that the transfer of power to the lieutenant governor will begin at 12:30 p.m. Thursday. It will end when he sends the leaders a written declaration that he’s able to resume his duties.
Walz has been a runner for years. He expects to be back in the office Monday and fully recovered in under six weeks. He’ll have the same procedure on his right knee sometime soon.

Small weekly newspaper praised for standing with immigrants

PELICAN RAPIDS, Minn. (AP) — A small weekly newspaper in western Minnesota is receiving praise for a column that took a tongue-in-cheek approach to stand up for diversity.
Last month, the Pelican Rapids Press posted high school graduation pictures on its Facebook page, including pictures of Somali students. After one Facebook commenter said the newspaper was displaying “Anti-Americanism,” managing editor Louis Hoglund used the pen to fight back.
In a June 12 column, Hoglund sarcastically declared his paper was “Anti-American .”
Hoglund invited the Facebook commenter to write a letter to the editor, and to attend a multicultural festival which he said “promises to be a shameless show of unpatriotic pageantry — a visual spectacle sure to reinforce what it means to be American.”
More than 100 people commented on Hoglund’s column. One person said it was a “fantastic response to hate.”

Minnesota man charged with killing 2 trumpeter swans

ANOKA, Minn. (AP) — A Minnesota man is charged with killing two federally protected trumpeter swans in Anoka County.
Twenty-five-year-old Conner Walsh of Lino Lakes faces several misdemeanors, including hunting protected birds, in connection with last fall’s killings on Rice Lake. He was charged by summons and has to appear in court on July 17.
His mother told the Star Tribune the family has no way to reach him.
The complaint says that a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officer saw Walsh shoot and kill a trumpeter swan from a kayak, then drag the bird in the water. DNR officers approached and saw two dead trumpeter swans on the boat.
Walsh allegedly said he thought the swans were snow geese. But the DNR says trumpeter swans are up to five times larger, and hunters should know the difference.
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Information from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com

Cameras at Minnesota sentencings pull back curtain on courts

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — For decades, Minnesota has resisted allowing cameras in courtrooms for the usual arguments — lawyers would grandstand, witnesses would be intimidated, decorum would be disrupted if public proceedings were recorded and broadcast.
Under rules that allowed the judge, prosecutors or defense attorneys to veto camera coverage during the trial phase, seeing a Minnesota trial on TV “would be as common as running into a unicorn in deer hunting season,” as media attorney Mark Anfinson put it.
But video coverage of high-profile sentencings — which don’t require approval from the parties involved — is giving a more frequent glimpse inside Minnesota courts. That’s cheered advocates of openness in the court system, even as they wish for easier access at the trial phase
“It’s a definite first step. It’s not the finish line,” said Anfinson, who has seen an increasing number of video requests from news organizations since the state court system launched a pilot project in 2015.
When former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor was sentenced this month to 12½ years in prison for fatally shooting Justine Ruszczyk Damond while answering her 911 call in 2017, viewers could see and hear Noor’s halting delivery as he apologized, hear the victim’s fiancé Don Damond mourn the future he and his bride-to-be would not share, and hear the judge tell Noor “Good people sometimes do bad things” as she rejected his plea for leniency.
Showing courtroom action goes beyond artists’ sketches and allows people to see and hear it for themselves, said Suki Dardarian, senior managing editor at Minnesota’s largest newspaper, the Star Tribune.
“You really do, as a member of the community, get to experience it yourself when you hear Justine Damond’s fiancé speak, when you heard Noor speak, when you hear the judge speak. You couldn’t help but feel the emotion each of those people felt,” Dardarian said.
She said to witness that through video — “without anyone being in the way” — is “pretty powerful.”
Noor’s sentencing coincided with cameras filming other high-profile cases recently in Hennepin County, including the man who threw a 5-year-old boy off a balcony at Mall of America and a teenager who crashed a stolen SUV into a pickup, killing three people.
Minnesota is more conservative than neighbors Wisconsin, Iowa and North Dakota in allowing cameras in courts. Defense attorneys who don’t want their clients on camera, victims’ advocates who worry about victims being traumatized again, judges and prosecutors have opposed expanding Minnesota’s rules, Anfinson said. (The Minnesota County Attorneys Association said it would implement the new rules but was “strongly opposed to any further expansion of audio and video coverage in criminal cases.”)
But Anfinson added: “There’s just no support at all that really can demonstrate empirically that these concerns are well grounded.”
Modern cameras are unobtrusive, and gone are the days of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping trial “where you had to run and call it in,” said University of Minnesota professor Jane Kirtley, who directs the Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law.
And while the sensational O.J. Simpson murder trial of 25 years ago is “the poster child of why cameras in the court are a bad thing” to many judges, Kirtley said, those trial’s excesses “had very little to do within the courtroom.”
Washington County’s lead prosecutor, Pete Orput, said he has no problem with the new sentencing rules and would like to see electronic coverage expanded as long as victims are protected. Doing so would help people understand what goes on in courts, he said.
“Why not publicize a trial? It doesn’t have to be a circus,” Orput said.
But Twin Cities defense attorney Marsh Halberg isn’t as positive about cameras in court, even though he thinks their use will only grow.
“What I don’t like is the 15-second sound bites at the 6 o’clock news that comes from it,” Halberg said. “It can paint things in a distorted way.”
Advocates for increased camera coverage point to Wisconsin and the kidnapping of 13-year-old Jayme Closs. Court hearings for Jake Patterson, who pleaded guilty to and was sentenced for kidnapping Jayme and killing her parents, were covered by TV and still photographers and livestreamed without apparent problems.
Anfinson, the media lawyer, said such access can have “cathartic effects” for a community “when you see real justice being done.”
“Yes, it’s happening. We didn’t just hear about it, read about it. We saw justice being done in what was a terrible case,” Anfinson said.
Defense attorney Eric Nelson, a partner with Halberg in a Bloomington law firm, represented Levi Acre-Kendall, who was acquitted in a man’s April 2015 stabbing death in western Wisconsin. Nelson said cameras created no distraction at that trial.
“You kind of forget until the end of the day” that a camera was in the courtroom, Nelson said.
KSTP-TV assignment manager Daren Sukhram, who handles the St. Paul station’s requests for camera coverage, said cameras that go into court are “just showing what happens hundreds of times a month at regular court hearings around the state.”
He said electronic media should be treated no differently than other forms of communication.
“No reporter has been banned from court for bringing in pen and paper,” he said. “So why are we not allowed to bring a camera in there?”
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Follow Jeff Baenen on Twitter at https://twitter.com/jeffbaenen .

Father dies trying to rescue his toddler from Minnesota lake

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. (AP) — Authorities say a father died while trying to save his 3-year-old child who fell from a bridge into a northwestern Minnesota lake.
The Becker County sheriff’s office says Christopher Franklin Nicholas Schultz jumped into Detroit Lake after his child fell from the bridge at Dead Shot Bay on Saturday evening.
The sheriff’s office says in a news release that the 32-year-old father struggled to keep his child above water. Bystanders were able to help bring the toddler to shore, but Schultz, of nearby Frazee, Minnesota, didn’t resurface.
The Becker County Diver Team and a fisherman found the father around 9 p.m. He died at a hospital in the city of Detroit Lakes, about 45 miles (70 kilometers) east of Fargo, North Dakota.
The child was treated for non-life-threatening injuries.

Searchers for missing swimmer find body in Lake George

OAK GROVE, Minn. (AP) — Anoka County authorities who were searching Lake George in suburban Oak Grove for a missing swimmer have recovered a man’s body.
The sheriff’s office says it got a report around noon Saturday of a man who was drowning at Lake George Beach in Oak Grove. A 53-year-old Oak Grove man had removed his life jacket and was swimming near a boat when he began to struggle and went under.
The search resumed Sunday morning, and the marine unit of the sheriff’s office recovered a man’s body around 1 p.m.
The sheriff’s office isn’t saying whether it’s the same person but says it will provide additional information after the medical examiner identifies the body.

University wrestlers suspected of criminal sexual conduct

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Nationally-ranked University of Minnesota heavyweight wrestler Gable Steveson and a teammate have been arrested on suspicion of criminal sexual conduct.
KARE-TV reports that an Athletics Department statement to the station confirmed the two men arrested were on the wrestling team.
They have not been charged.
KSTP-TV reports that jail records show Steveson and Dylan Martinez were arrested Saturday night at different times and places in Minneapolis. Authorities have not released details.
Steveson was a four-time state champion at Apple Valley High School and was ranked No. 3 nationally at the end of the season by a respected rankings service. Martinez was a transfer from Fresno City College.
The Athletics Department says they’ve been suspended from team activity pending further information. It says federal and state law precludes releasing further details.
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This version of the story corrects the last name of the heavyweight wrestler to Steveson, not Stevenson.

Hiring events at state prisons aims to boost officer ranks

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota is holding employment fairs at maximum-security prisons with the aim of allaying potential applicants’ safety concerns and expediting the hiring process, after the Legislature promised the state Department of Corrections $10 million to boost recruitment and retain staff.
The department set itself a target of hiring 78 new officers, including 67 this year, Minnesota Public Radio reported.
Correctional facilities at Stillwater and Oak Park Heights hosted the events, and they are desperate for new recruits following a rash of inmate violence in recent years.
“There’s no doubt there is risk in this work. And staffing will in fact help us to mitigate and minimize some of that risk,” said Minnesota Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell. “Not all of it. We will never remove all of it.”
The Corrections Department has recorded 817 disciplinary incidents involving inmates assaulting staff since mid-2012, including in July last year, when a Stillwater inmate beat and stabbed an officer to death.
Before the fairs, Minnesota had 1,969 correctional officers overseeing more than 9,300 inmates in 10 facilities, with 40 vacancies.
“Staffing has been a struggle for us solidly for at least the last 18 to 24 months,” said Capt. Mark Maslonkowski, who runs the jail in Stearns County. “We have struggled significantly to find and retain qualified staff. It’s an industry problem.”
The employment fairs were designed to expedite the hiring process. Applicants hand over their resumes, take assessments, sit for interviews and tour the facility.
“In the past, it could take weeks, if not months, for somebody who applied for a corrections officer job to be hired,” he said. “Today, we think we’ve got it to the point where we think we can turn that in a matter of days — 72 hours, five days — to make somebody an offer.”
Lt. Nick Witter, a veteran guard at Oak Park Heights, said holding the hiring events at the prisons make sense.
“People think maximum security and they have these visions of movies and what you see in the media,” Witter said. “And all the sudden they come in, and they’re like, ‘Man, this place is clean. Wow, it’s quiet. Wow, it’s just what I expected.’ It’s kind of a culture shock for them.”
Greg Thompson, a truck driver from Ellsworth, Wisconsin, attended the event at Stillwater. He said he wanted to find a new role and purpose.
“I need to choose a career path that is a little more fulfilling for myself,” he said.
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Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mprnews.org

Police union: Chief violated law in case of 5 fired officers

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The president of the St. Paul police union says the city’s police chief broke a state law by revealing details about a case that cost five officers their jobs.
St. Paul Police Federation head Paul Kuntz said Friday that police Chief Todd Axtell gave “an incomplete and false narrative, forcing the media to fill in the blanks.” Federation attorney Chris Wachtler said he expects the union to file a grievance next week.
Axtell responded in a statement by calling Kuntz’s comments “untrue allegations.” The chief said he wants to hear the union’s position once it has requested and reviewed the files.
Axtell announced the firings on Thursday. He did not name the officers or give a detailed explanation, other than to say they failed to intervene in an assault last year.