Monthly Archives

April 2015

“Will Work for Change”

By | Health Care, Le Sueur County, Rice County | No Comments

“Will Work for Change,” emblazoned the yellow tee-shirts of about 25 students from the Social Work program at St. Olaf College, at the Capitol this past Monday. They joined about 700 other undergraduate students from colleges around the state to talk to us about specific legislative policies that truly make a difference in people’s lives. Unfortunately, these occupations don’t offer a great salary, underscoring the passion these young men and women have for a career choice that satisfies them in so many other ways. These students have a clear desire to empower individuals and advocate for their well-being within the communities in which they live. Minnesota would benefit immensely from many more young service-oriented professionals like them. Unfortunately, few follow a professional path in this direction because a common theme spans social work and related career fields: low wages and worker shortages. This was reinforced at recent meetings with nursing home workers at a meeting in Owatonna and a town hall meeting for persons with disabilities in Faribault.  Potential employees take better paying jobs at hospitals and clinics or choose other career options perpetuating the problem.

Providing high quality community services requires not just social workers, but also transit drivers, housekeepers, cooks, crisis managers, medical care providers, not to mention those who help with bathing and dressing. The people who work these jobs are passionate, caring people who love their clients and the sense of purpose it brings them. Unfortunately, they really do work for “change,” averaging just $11.55/hour with many making much less. Too often, low wages lead to higher turnover, which reduces the quality of care. The people who want to do this work are out there, but low pay is a severe barrier to continuing their careers. Too often, they don’t even start because of it.

My soon to be 16-year-old daughter will be looking for a summer job in the next month or so. I suggested she consider one of our local care facilities, hoping she would learn some of the skills that come with a tough job that provides dignity, safety, and hope to our community members. She looked at me quizzically and mumbled something about a job at a cash register with flexible hours. When a retail job can earn just as much or even more, it was difficult for me to make a compelling case for this industry to someone just entering the workforce. Of course, we need retail employees too, but I have concerns about the future of our seniors, people with disabilities, and our community’s most vulnerable. Unless we address the low pay and the current funding model for our counties, nursing homes, and home and community-based services, we will face a crisis within a few short years. Some would argue we have already reached that crisis point.

Listening to social workers, care providers, nurses, administrators, and others share their passion for their rewarding careers reinforces the need that we as a state must do more. The quality of life of our seniors and citizens with disabilities depends on it. There are bills in legislature that offer solutions. They include Medical Assistance reform and another 5% campaign (increasing compensation to care providers). The time is now. I applaud those who really do “work for change.”


Rice County Drug Court

By | Le Sueur County, Rice County | No Comments

This past Thursday I sat in on a weekly convening of the Rice County Drug Court.  The Rice County Drug Court (RCDC) was established in July of 2014 joining several counties that have started drug courts as way to ensure offender accountability, improve efficiencies in processing drug cases, and  reduce overall social and economic costs of illegal drug activity to society. Most importantly, the RCDC hopes to establish and support a pathway to success for each participant.

On this particular afternoon, young men and women each took their turn standing before Judge Thomas Neuville, each sharing the challenges of the past week while the judge asked questions about a job, their treatment program, family matters, or other personal reflections.  Each participant handed over a journal with entries specific to their challenges of staying clean and chemical free.  The judge takes the time to read these journals weekly and provides written notes to the participants with the goal of ensuring compliance and regular feedback about expectations, not only from the judge, but other supporters including the county attorney, the drug court administrator, parole officers, social workers, and chemical and mental health advocates.   Other aspects of the program include required drug treatment, possible electronic monitoring, and random drug testing. Later phases of the program allow successful participants to meet bi-weekly or even monthly as long as the rules of the RCDC are being followed.

Not everyone “graduates” from the drug court.  A successful program can save the state money in the long run.  The courts are less crowded and many young people can avoid lengthy prison terms.  Success relies on positive enforcement strategies. For example, after each participant shares their few minutes with the judge, he announces “how many days” the participant has been chemical free.  This cues everyone in the courtroom to applaud.  Judge Neuville acknowledged the need for a “different set of skills” for this type of courtroom and participant interaction.  But, building these relationships focused on participant reflection helps guide the phases to successful conclusions.  These offenders need the support to stay drug free and on productive and relevant in our communities.  A recent offender who fell out of the program found his way in front of Judge Neuville in the regular court proceeding knowing he would now face a prison sentence.  His first words to the judge were “I’m sorry. He knew he had let the judge down.

I hope we can fund the Drug Court through the judicial budget.  It is an innovative approach in reducing the adverse impact of serious and repeat offenders on the citizens and criminal justice system in Rice and other counties while creating a system that is more effective for participants.  And it seems to be working.