By Tim Benjamin
The state fair is over and the weather’s getting cooler. Soon it will be time to start unpacking the winter clothes, but not yet. I didn’t make it to the fair this year. If you did, I hope you had a great time; the great Minnesota get-together is always a good time to buy things you don’t need, to eat food that’s not good for you, to people-watch and possibly meet some of the state’s politicians. Of course, several of the presidential candidates showed up, too.
It seems as though the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) has been turned upside down and continues to churn. After Tony Lourey, the governor’s original choice for DHS commissioner, resigned in July, his chief of staff and two deputy commissioners, Claire Wilson and Charles Johnson, resigned. Then, when Pamela Wheelock came in as acting commissioner, both Wilson and Johnson rescinded their resignations. In another month Wilson resigned again, and she was followed by Marie Zimmerman, the assistant commissioner who was in charge of Medicaid.
The new commissioner, Jodi Harpstead, who came on board on September 3, announced that her mission is to “rebuild trust with the people of Minnesota.” On her second day in office, she was called to speak with the Senate committees on health and human services and reform. Several high-ranking legislators are considering making a request for an audit of the whole department. Others, along with departing acting commissioner Wheelock, are suggesting that DHS be split, making mental health a department in itself. All this uncertainty will surely stall any new funding from the legislature. It doesn’t look good for a number of currently underfunded programs, and even worse for new investments we have been fighting for over the last decade.
The PCA crisis is still causing major problems. I spoke with a woman from greater Minnesota recently who had spent almost two weeks in her wheelchair without any assistance to get to bed, bathe or change clothes. After many days, someone offered to put her in bed, but like many of us, she was better able in her wheelchair to take care of some of her needs. She was more able to get food and water, and have access to phones and computers than she would be in bed. Still, I cannot imagine sitting in my chair that long. She was hospitalized after that stint to address a minor pressure sore. I’ll share more of her story in the future as I learn more.
I’m very excited by the challenge grant that we have received from Friends of Access Press to match all donations this month up to $10,000. I’m asking all readers to make a special donation, and even consider doubling your donations, before September 30. Thank you to all our loyal readers and to the Friends of Access Press for this significant investment in Access Press’s longevity.
Another rich source of gifts that we deeply appreciate has come from friends of John Schatzlein. Before he died in June, John specifically asked that donations be directed to the paper, and so many of you have responded. In partial tribute to you and to John, we have reprinted a couple of his articles on page 4 of this issue.
Work on the website is underway. Our aim is to provide a fresher face and clearer, more accessible features. Take a look and let us know what works and what you’d like to see improved. Thanks to everyone for your patience as we get our online presence looking and acting more like a 21st-century website.
Enjoy September and the change of seasons, and we will talk in a month.