Tim's Desk - June 2020

Tim's Desk - June 2020

At last. Summer is here, and doors and windows are opening up, just like stores and places of worship and workplaces. While we are all welcoming the fresh air, many of us with vulnerabilities are worried that it’s going to get much harder to maintain our safe social distance. With so many activities and businesses reopening it’s going to get harder and harder. We are all part of the economy, so getting that back up is a good thing. But for people with disabilities who have caregivers that can now be out and about and exposed to the virus, the opening up is kind of frightening. So there’s that, and since everywhere you look there is news about the pandemic, I’m going to try to touch on other topics. 

Like many of you, I would not have been able to live and work independently without the personal care attendant (PCA) program and home care.

Alex Bartolic, who recently retired from disability services at the Minnesota Department of Human Services, has been asked to serve as the interim leader of the Minnesota Council on Disability. There are not many people who could fill outgoing director Joan Willshire’s shoes, but I think Bartolic can and will do a good job in the part-time interim position until they can recruit a new permanent director. 

Another new leader is Shelley Madore, who has taken on the director position at the Olmstead Implementation Office (OIO). While she has big shoes to fill also, she’ll do a great job. Read an interview with this new leader on page 3. 

Darlene Zangara was a wonderful OIO director but she has taken her talents to the Minnesota Commission of the Deaf, Deaf/Blind and Hard of Hearing. Work on the Olmstead Plan by the Olmstead Subcabinet and its committees can be very difficult to keep up on and it is constantly watched over by the courts. It will be interesting to see where Madore can take the plan. 

The Minnesota Legislature worked on an increase in reimbursement rates for home care that included overtime and an increase in wages. The bill passed in the Senate, but it was tabled in the House finance committee. The final legislation did have increases for nursing home facilities but none in the end for home care. Considering that the majority of the state’s COVID-19 fatalities have been in the nursing homes and long-term care facilities, it was understandable that an emphasis was put there. 

But while the nursing homes and congregate-living facilities need a reimbursement increase immensely, so does home care. It’s almost as if the House and the governor did not have home care on their priority list for help in relieving the burden of the pandemic. 

The home care industry throughout the country has been struggling with reimbursement for decades–as long as I can remember. One of the first legislation rallies that I want to, with the late Charlie Smith, was focused on increasing the reimbursement rates. And one of the only times (before I became executive director of Access Press) that I testified in a House committee meeting was concerning reimbursement rates for home care. 

Like many of you, I would not have been able to live and work independently without the personal care attendant (PCA) program and home care. So the fact that we still have to fight is no big news. I just hope that in the future people will look at what we have done with the ADA, the Olmstead Plan, and home care supports and build on the hard work done by advocates in the past, challenging the blindness of those in power. 

Enjoy Minnesota’s beautiful month of June, but be safe. I look forward to getting together soon.

It’s ironic that the COVID crisis has provided higher incomes for so many than they could make while working. But the $600 weekly unemployment checks have meant that many PCAs and other home care workers are making $15 an hour, and that’s more than most agencies can pay. 

Not everybody’s been blind to the need. There have been some good articles and on-air news pieces that have highlighted the home care crisis. Be sure to follow the Access Press Facebook page and Twitter account for regular daily links on this topic and many more. 

Enjoy Minnesota’s beautiful month of June, but be safe. The Access Press Board of Directors is still planning the paper’s 30th anniversary celebration as well as the renewed Charlie Smith Award. It will happen however it can, and I look forward to this anniversary and to getting together soon.