Berglin leaves legacy of service on health, human services issues

Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, is calling it quits. The longtime state legislator, considered to be the most knowledgeable state lawmaker […]

Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, is calling it quits. The longtime state legislator, considered to be the most knowledgeable state lawmaker on health and human services issues, announced last month that she is stepping down. Berglin has represented some of south Minneapolis’s most ethnically and economically diverse neighborhoods for 39 years, starting in the House and then moving to the Senate. She is credited with helping to create many safety net and health programs that helped low-income people and people with disabilities, including MinnesotaCare, General Assistance Medical Care and other safety net programs.

Berglin, 66, was elected to the Minnesota House in 1972, when there was just one woman incumbent. Her last day as a state lawmaker is Aug. 15. A special election to fill her seat has been announced, with a Sept. 13 primary and Oct. 18 general election. Berglin isn’t staying idle and she will continue to work in health care policy. In mid-July she began a new job as health policy manager for Hennepin County. Some of her duties will include implementation of implement federal health care law changes.

Media accounts of Berglin’s legislative retirement note that she is well-liked for her respect toward self-advocates and low-income people who testified when she chaired the Health and Human Services Committee. But she could be blunt in her responses to others. But even her critics acknowledged that her encyclopedic knowledge of health care will be sorely missed.

Disability community members praised Berglin for her years of service, as well as her vast knowledge of laws and policies on health care. She was well-known for her ability to save or shape programs. She has worked hard to increase access to affordable health care, improve child care, and promote mental health reforms and community-based services to help frail elderly and disabled people stay in their homes. She was a chief architect of state programs bringing medical care to low-income working people and the destitute. She authored laws helping aged and disabled people remain out of institutional care.

Berglin shaped the 2007 legislation to refocus Minnesota health care programs from paying for services to paying for results, a change just unfolding. She also fought to move people with mental illness out of state hospitals and into expanded community services.

In a letter to the editor, People Incorporated CEO Tim Burkett called Berglin a “tenacious champion for those who don’t have a voice in state policy, especially those without access to health care.” Burkett praised Berglin for helping People Incorporated secure funding for its program, Safe Haven Services, which helps mentally ill, homeless people find housing and services. “She’s been a guardian angel for people with mental illness who, due to the stigma, often fall through the safety nets designed for people with other disabilities. Berglin has worked hard to remove the stigma from mental illness by finding funding alternatives, such as General Assistance Medical Care, that enabled many people to move out of institutions and live independently in the community,” Burkett said. “Minnesota could do with much more of the creative thinking and determination that Berglin has demonstrated in her decades of work in the legislature.”

Michael Scandrett, a health care consultant and executive director of the Minnesota Safety Net Coalition, said Berglin saved the state millions of dollars by making sure programs provided care for people now, rather than delaying care and adding to costs.