To the editor:
Minnesota has led the way in innovating service approaches that make life better for people with disabilities. In the 1970s, people with disabilities began moving out of regional treatment centers and into more home-like settings in our community. It’s time to take the next steps that will improve quality of life for people with disabilities and reduce cost to taxpayers as well.
This strategic approach is all about people with disabilities living more self-directed lives, as envisioned in the Olmstead plan.
More than 65,000 people are living with disabilities in Minnesota and 5,000 of those are on a waiting list for services. With continued focus on community living and reducing costs, and approaching factors like the Olmstead Plan, Minnesota has an opportunity to address issues for people with disabilities in new ways that can lead to the desired outcomes for independence and decreased costs.
At the state legislature, six organizations that serve people with disabilities and their families have been advocating for a new strategic approach that would be made possible through a Minnesota Department of Human Services Innovation Pool, which is now in the proposed budgets of the Governor, House and Senate. We’re grateful that there is wide, bipartisan support from our legislators and government officials who believe that it is time to move Minnesota forward once again in ways that help people with disabilities live the lives they imagine for themselves and at a lower cost.
But making an enormous shift like this is an art. Organizations and communities need to be prepared to support people living in new settings, individuals need to be prepared to try new settings, and all kinds of processes, complicated systems, and payment mechanisms need to be adjusted to prepare for this change. Organizations serving people with disabilities have been using their expertise in partnership with the state every step of the way to shape the system to prepare for and expedite these shifts to community.
This shift won’t take place overnight. Thousands of Minnesotans with disabilities still live in four-per-son homes and work in sheltered workshops that require higher levels of support. These models and the individuals using these services now need to continue to be supported with dedicated, quality staff, even as we explore and offer people new ways of living and working in our community.
As our economy picks up and the Minnesota minimum wage increases, providing a quality, consistent workforce for people with disabilities is a major challenge, even as many individuals begin to make new choices to less intensive, less expensive settings. This is why we are advocating for another rate increase for the people who support individuals in their own homes and group homes. Simply put, with lags in investment over the years, the current rates for this critical work do not support a wage that many employees and their families can rely on.
This is a smart economic investment for our Minnesota workforce and it’s aligned with Minnesota’s work to ensure that people with disabilities are the chief architects of their own lives—what we all want for ourselves.
With the support of our legislature, we can make giant leaps forward in quality of life for people with disabilities and create a more efficient model of service that benefits all of us.
George Klauser, Julie Manworren, John Estrem, Armando Camacho, Judy Lysne, Jodi Harpstead and Bruce Torgerson signed this letter as members of the Altair Accountable Care Organization.