two friends hugging

Tornadoes and Whirlwinds

While LBSA was largely spared in the tornadic assault on Rice County on September 20 (We lost a few trees, and had no significant property damage.), it seems that the whirlwind from the storm remains. Or maybe it’s been here for some time. I’m not talking about the actual wind. It’s the continual swirl of our industry.

  • It’s the politics of service provision – where we consistently have to be defending the need for our services, and the real cost of being engaged in this business.

To that end, we hosted Senator Tina Smith’s staff members for a health care listening session on Friday, September 7. About 40 people shared their diverse opinions and needs regarding health care. We talked about the need to preserve support for people with disabilities and their families, to fairly compensate direct support workers, and to preserve Medicaid or create a successor program.

I recently attended our national advocacy agency’s federal policy conference, where we had the opportunity to meet with our Minnesota congressional delegation and talk about our needs. My take from these conversations? Generally, legislators and staffers understand the need and are supportive of our issues. The challenge? Keeping people with disabilities at the top of their priority list, as they juggle the many issues they face.

That’s where you all come in: We increase the priority of these issues when legislators hear from many people.

That’s the federal side of things.

On a state level, we are advocating to restore the 7% cut we received in 2017 in some of our community services rates. We consistently advocate for an INCREASE in our rates so we can better compensate our amazing staff members.

  • It’s the reality of being able to hire and retain staff members, and the consistent work we do to educate and re-educate those staff members. 60% turnover is the norm in this business in Minnesota, and we work to be below that by cultivating an “employer of choice” atmosphere. (LBSA is currently at 45% in 2018.) We also know that people need to be able to make ends meet.
  • It’s meeting the many rules and regulations, changes to those rules and regulations, and changing emphases in how rules are reviewed and enforced.

All of those issues are simply ensuring that we are able to provide core services. Additionally, we want to be able to move service provision forward.

  • We’re converting to healthier menus, with less processed food and more whole grains and whole foods. We’re grateful to Northfield Hospital & Clinics for their support of this transition.
  • We’re revamping our Creative Arts program, especially the “arts” part: We’ve hired a new Arts Specialist, Bridget Novak. She’s working on two fronts – with our clients to provide arts experiences and with the community to invite a variety of artists of all kinds to engage with our clients. We’re grateful to the Groves Foundation for their support of this initiative.
  • We continue to work with other Northfield groups to develop affordable housing solutions. We appreciate Three Rivers Community Action for their technical support in creating strategies specifically for people with disabilities.
  • We’ve created a pilot program with Northfield Public Schools to educate young people interested in helping or supporting others to complete our orientation process and be eligible to be hired.
  • We continue to host parents and other interested parties at a quarterly parents’ meeting to determine where service gaps exist and to discuss how we might help fill those gaps. Our next meeting is November 10, when Three Rivers staff will be here to talk about options.
  • We’re working with Northfield Works, a program of the Community Action Center of Northfield, and Epic Enterprise to encourage employers to hire people with disabilities. We are incorporating our Reverse Job Fair into this initiative.
  • To help us accomplish all of this, we are raising $540,000. Many of the programs above don’t receive funding. And our reimbursement rates for our core services haven’t changed since 2014, so the gap between what we receive and what our services cost continues to widen.

Staying Grounded

What can you do to help us stay grounded in the whirlwind?

  1. Become a staff member, or encourage someone you know to become one.
  2. Share our stories on social media – encourage others to raise their voices to support people with disabilities.
  3. Become an advocate. Visit laurabaker.org/advocate to see our current issues, and share your thoughts with legislators.
  4. Share your ideas with us. Know folks in the arts community? Encourage them to engage with us.
  5. Help us reach our fundraising goal. Talk to Andrei Sivanich, our director of community relations, or me about ways you can share our story and needs with your circles.

Let’s work together to make the tornado a force for good.




About the Author

Sandi Gerdes

Sandi Gerdes, executive director of Laura Baker Services Association, has a 30-year history of leadership in the disabilities community. A longtime advocate for choice, Sandi has developed numerous innovative service programs tailored to the unique needs of the individuals the organization serves.


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