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Access Press - Minnesota's Disability Community Newspaper

Editor’s Column – May 2016

by // May 10th, 2016

Tim Benjamin

There is a crisis in the disability community and it has been going on for years. About ten years ago, I got an email from someone with a significant disability who said that his staffing issues were getting out of control, and he wasn’t sure how much longer he could go on. This person was in a real crisis situation. He had just gained his independence, moving out of his hometown nursing home and into the Metro area where he could take advantage of all the community resources, education options, transportation and housing accessibility, etc. He could not go back home, and he could not maintain his independence when staffing was so unstable. His overnight help had not shown up the previous few nights, and he had laid in his bed each night with no help getting to the restroom, no help getting water, no help getting repositioned or dealing with anything else that might have come up. This gentleman is still facing these problems, and more and more people like him are struggling with home care staffing issues.

Over the years, dependency without support has created a sense of learned helplessness for many in the disability community. Too many people are in fear of not getting any of the care they need if they speak out. For too many, persistent attempts to control the uncontrollable become too difficult. Hope for the right public policies has its limits; wishful thinking about better luck with the next agency or next PCA is not a sufficient strategy. For some, believing there is nothing can be done to change the situation leads to resignation: “This is the way it is.”

What’s so difficult is that there are many people with disabilities who are employed and pay taxes, who are assets to their community, and are now, because of changes in federal health care law, facing the real potential of having to give up their jobs and their autonomy. These rule changes are compounded by a workforce crisis because of low wages and high demand for personal care assistants. If this catastrophe is not resolved, we may see hundreds or thousands of productive citizens having to move from the community into long-term care facilities—where the next catastrophe could occur.

What was the point of the ADA and in Minnesota, the Olmstead Plan, creating laws for community integration, for educational and job opportunities, transportation, accessible facilities and public infrastructure, when people with disabilities don’t have staff to get them out of bed? Why were all these millions spent in the first place?

Now in this crisis we are starting to see home care agencies hesitating to take on clients with high needs because it’s so difficult to staff and make a meager profit. Agency administration and staff training have become incredibly costly because of rules and regulations established to eliminate perceived fraud in community living. Once trained, PCAs resign at high rates, and why wouldn’t they when they can make more money delivering Jimmy John’s or working at Burger King with very little training and no one’s life in their hands.

The most vulnerable in our communities are being compromised because they cost too much and the state and federal government won’t sustain their supports. So again, what was the point of any of the work over the last 25 years, to give up on it now?

The greatest kudos go to so many of our lobbyists, advocates, allies and organizations who try to create a better world for all of us, but another round of “5% pay increase” legislation was proposed to bring the wage scale out of poverty level and it wouldn’t even be heard by this year’s committees. It was said to be way too costly, over the governor’s budget, so it was just buried. Nobody wants their parents to go into an institution or nursing home, and no parent wants to go into a nursing home, but the authorities continue to provide funding for them. Is that then the environment we really want for our young adults?

Nobody should be forced out of community life to go where they don’t want to be. In fact, the Olmstead plan requires the state and the federal government to allow people with disabilities to “enjoy life in the least restrictive environment.” But what does that mean, if it’s not enforced or if our government and communities are not willing to back it with real change, with real tax investment.

People do not choose disability. But for those who live with disabilities, social supports are needed so that they can thrive and live their lives doing work that benefits the community. What will it take? How many people have to be hospitalized or die before we recognize this crisis? “Death with Dignity” assisted suicide legislation was dropped in committee this session after some pretty heated discussion. Doesn’t this tell us that the community doesn’t want people to take their own lives, that all lives are valuable? What are people to do? The stress and anxiety is making young people old in a hurry, and older people like me very worried.




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10 Responses to “Editor’s Column – May 2016”

  1. Kathy Graves says:

    This is spot-on and an incredibly articulate and clear description of this topic. We ARE in a state of crisis, yet it is entirely solvable with appropriate investment. I intend to take this post and share it as widely as I can.

  2. Kathy Ware says:


    Minnesota’s OLMSTEAD plan calls for integration and inclusion into the community. There is a complete overhaul going on in Social Services with the way people are assessed and reassessed and CSP’s CSSP’S and CSSP Addendums and Person Centered Thinking and Person Centered Planning. Change of epic proportions—none of which has been seen of this magnitude in YEARS. Why?



    Olmstead means nothing without staffing for people with severe to profound physical and or cognitive disabilities.


    Minnesota’s Olmstead Plan

    On September 29, 2015, the Court approved Minnesota’s August 2015 Olmstead Plan stating

    “The Court applauds the parties for their collaboration in developing this landmark Olmstead Plan. Simply put, this revision of the Olmstead Plan is unlike any other version submitted to the Court. The Court fully expects the State to act on its promises to ensure that the Olmstead Plan will truly put the promise of Olmstead into practice across the state.”

    The Olmstead Plan is a broad series of key activities our state must accomplish to ensure people with disabilities are living, learning, working, and enjoying life in the most integrated setting. The Plan will help achieve a better Minnesota for all Minnesotans, because it will help Minnesotans with disabilities have the opportunity, both now and in the future to:

    • Live close to their family and friends

    • Live more independently

    • Engage in productive employment

    • Participate in community life.

    In short, it will offer Minnesotans with disabilities opportunities just like everyone else.

    The Plan is available on the Documents page. See the About page for the history and background of Minnesota’s Olmstead Plan.

    Kathy Ware

  3. Kathy Ware says:

    Most Registered Nurses with 4 year degrees are paid $25.00 per hour in home care for people that are medically fragile. The agency is paid $41.76/hour. $41.76-$25.00=$16.76 / hour is what the nursing agency keeps per hour off of every hour worked for that RN. What if that RN could make the $41.76/hour rather than $25.00/hour. Think that would help?

    PCA’s are paid at $17.08/hour, and they make $10.00/hour maybe $12.00 if you are fortunate. What if the PCA made $17.08/hour? A little more competition perhaps?

    MN Department of Human Services Job Class: Human Services Technician
    Salary Range: $13.61 – $21.59 /hourly

    Minimum Qualifications:

    To qualify, you must possess ALL of the following:

    – Ability to read and write English sufficient to understand/follow directions and to maintain records/documentation.
    – Human relations skills sufficient to establish rapport with and provide direction to service recipients.
    – A valid Driver’s License.

    Why Work For Us

    GREAT BENEFITS PACKAGE! The State of Minnesota offers a comprehensive benefits package including low cost medical and dental insurance, employer paid life insurance, short and long term disability, pre-tax flexible spending accounts, retirement plan, tax-deferred compensation, generous vacation and sick leave, and 11 paid holidays each year.

    PCA’s: No heath Care, No dental Care, $10/hour, no paid holidays, no benefits whatsoever.

  4. Kathy Ware says:

    Minnesota Department of Human Services
    Job Class: Human Services Technician

    Working Title: Direct Support Specialist

    Who May Apply: Open to all qualified job seekers

    Date Posted: 12/09/2015

    Closing Date: 05/31/2016

    Hiring Agency: Department of Human Services

    Division/Unit: Direct Care and Treatment Services/Community Based Services

    Salary Range: $13.61 – $21.59 hourly

    Minimum Qualifications:

    1. Candidates must have a high school diploma or GED.
    2. Have a current and valid driver license.
    3. Ability to read and write in English.
    4. Basic math skills.
    5. Must have clear communication skills.
    6. Basic computer skills.

    GREAT BENEFITS PACKAGE! The State of Minnesota offers a comprehensive benefits package including low cost medical and dental insurance, employer paid life insurance, short and long term disability, pre-tax flexible spending accounts, retirement plan, tax-deferred compensation, generous vacation and sick leave, and 11 paid holidays each year.

    Every person needs the support of others. Minnesota Department of Human Services is looking for person-centered and caring people to support individuals with intellectual disabilities, traumatic brain injury, and other emotional, behavioral & medical complexities. As a Direct Support Specialist you will be a member of a team who helps provide essential services to Minnesota’s most vulnerable residents.

  5. Tim Benjamin says:

    We should have all our PCAs apply for this job.
    This really does show the sad state of affairs of our home care programs.

  6. You are correct in stating that a 5 percent increase will NOT help the situation. We need to pay caregivers a real livable wage. Then we can start to address the 2nd tier issues such as PCA’s who STEAL from homes, taking money and pain medication or anything else they can slip away with. We also need to look at safety training so that PCA’s no longer injure those they are working for. I have applied for several positions at the Department of Human Services for jobs in which I can best utilize my personal experience with a disability, along with my 15 year career working in local government – not to mention utilizing my TWO Masters Degrees! The disability services department at DHS won’t hire me! It is rediculous. I use the analogy of the Japanese government running the NAACP! Put us in positions to help us solve out own community problems!

  7. KATHY says:

    I use this to justify higher wages in the support plans I write for CDCS. I also use this to say that the State of Minnesota Department of Human Services pays this rate with FULL BENEFITS to get PCA’s.

  8. Erin Govrik says:

    Per the new & improved Olmstead Plan above…
    ” Live close to their family and friends

    • Live more independently

    • Engage in productive employment

    • Participate in community life.

    In short, it will offer Minnesotans with disabilities opportunities just like everyone else.

    NONE of these opportunities are attainable without ample staffing!! NONE of them! We have clients, both traditional and choice, whose stress level is at an all time high due to the fact that a) PCA does not show up b) PCA quits after 2 weeks c) or they have had open shifts for weeks because the wage is so low that qualified candidates are just not there. With open shifts, comes the use of “fill ins” or in our case, we feel lucky enough to be able to provide emergency “on call” – but that comes with a price! a) A price to the agency with already compromised margins, and b) a price to the client, this PCA has never met them before, does not know their cares – this is all in an effort to simply get this client up in the morning!!

    And this July 1, we receive a 2.72% increase?? This is shameful and embarrassing. This is roughly a $.20 cent /hr raise for a PCA – at most.

    Lets keep in mind the ever increasing challenges that PCA agencies are faced with: OT caps from 48-40 hrs/wk, ACA requirements, DHS revalidation requirements, DHS is months behind on processing employee UMPI #’s, Agencies now required to make unannounced phone visits to verify staff presence – really!

    Let’s fast forward 5-10 yrs, after these paltry increases, and how it will affect Minnesota’s Disability Community and all the “opportunities” they have.

  9. Sandra Donohue says:

    I have a small family foster home that was forced to apply for a 245D license with increased workload by having to create countless policies many that make no sense to our small homes. This increased workload takes away from us being able to take care of our clients.

    I would love for someone to contact me about what happens when homes like ours get shut down because we can’t handle all the requirements with no pay.

  10. Tim Benjamin says:

    Do you really want an answer?
    The answer is very simple, institutionalization for people with disabilities using state service. Businesses are not run out of the kindness of businesses hearts. (your heart may be big as they come and your intentions may be completely heartfelt but that doesn’t pay the mortgage) We all have to make a living and the state/country has even made employment opportunities for many people with disabilities unfortunately if you can’t get out of bed that job opportunity was a waste of time and money. Maybe, in your foster home job opportunities are what you’re Fosters’ need but what about the costs of accessible restaurants, accessible movies, accessible playgrounds, accessible sports facilities, curb cuts, accessible doctors offices, and on and on. A lot of money spent making the promise to people with disabilities but the promise is not being kept.



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