Disability is one of the nation’s leading health issues. People with disabilities are the largest minority group in the world, according to a 2011 World Health Organization report. In Minnesota, one in four individuals have a disability; these are staggering statistics.

As Minnesota continues on its journey toward ensuring that individuals with disabilities have choice in where they live, work and choose to spend their time, it is paramount public policies align to meet the objectives of Minnesota’s Olmstead Plan - to most effectively and efficiently manage the growing need for a responsive, flexible and innovative support delivery system.

Disability service sector providers, such as The Phoenix Residence, Inc., and Phoenix Service Corp., are making significant headway in its person-centered practices to ensure everyone is provided the most integrated services possible. People with disabilities receive services right here in your neighborhood: Newport, Cottage Grove and throughout Washington County. Services like home- and community-based services such as independent living skills to support people remain in their own home, and residential services, housing access coordination and transitional services.

Here is an example:

Susan, a young mother of four children has a traumatic brain injury (TBI). She lived in fear she would not be able to maintain her family under one roof, participate in activities with her children and manage her health needs. Susan, through home- and community-based services, along with a very skillful independent living services worker, is thriving. She lives in a single-family home with her children and they are very actively engaged in the community.

We are also in the early stages of a workforce crisis within the disability service sector that is expected to become even more challenging in the years ahead. If significant policy changes are not made to support providers in addressing the workforce issues, it threatens to dismantle the progress that has been made in providing vital home- and community-based services so that Susan and others like them can continue to receive the services and support they need to maintain independent living or in other living environments of their choice.

In my opinion, the most significant challenges disability service sector providers in Minnesota face are:

  • The need to earn livable wages for direct support employees. Recognition of the impact that wages and benefits have on providers’ ability to recruit and retain people is absolutely essential. A change in policy to fund livable wage will go a long way in leveling the playing field in the competition for a sustainable workforce.
  • The need to adequately fund provider rates so they can effectively and efficiently deliver services. 
  • The need for system reform that eliminates barriers and stifles flexibility. Systems that get in the way of providers’ ability to innovate and delay access to services must be reformed. 

Given the statistics mentioned above, and the anticipated growth in the number of individuals with disabilities due to aging of the population and other factors, we know for certain this will impact all of us and it must be a priority for us and our legislators. The Best Life Alliance, a nonpartisan, statewide coalition of more than 130 organizations, people with disabilities, older adults and community supporters advocating for home and community–based services is a vehicle to help drive reform as we move forward. Supporting the Best Life Alliance initiatives is the best way forward for the long-term-care sector and disability services. Contact your legislators today and ask them to support the Best Life Alliance and people with disabilities. Minnesota House member information is at 651-296-2146; Senate member information is at 651-296-0504.

Darlene Scott is president/CEO of The Phoenix Residence Inc., a nonprofit organization committed to developing person-centered quality living experiences for people with disabilities. Scott is a Cottage Grove resident.