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Hagedorn hears from personal service providers at EON/MBW

Staff photo by Clay Schuldt Members of MBW staff discuss the company’s staffing issues and employee reimbursement with Congressman Jim Hagedorn at the MBW office, Wednesday. L to R: Ron Alger, Ric Nelson, Angie Martinka, Adam Chesltrom, Jim Hagedorn and Julie Vanzandt.

NEW ULM — Congressman Jim Hagedorn visited EON/MBW Company Wednesday afternoon to tour the remodel office and talk with staff regarding shortages in the industry and other long-term care facilities.

MBW is part of the Employee Owned Network (EON) and it provides services to people with developmental disabilities. This includes group home programs as well as home and community-based services in Brown County and other areas throughout Minnesota.

MBW has long struggled with staffing. Hagedorn had previously visited with MBW when he ran for Minnesota’s First District in 2018. The company was struggling to fill the position and with the COVID pandemic, the need has grown. MBW CEO Ric Nelson said they had 180 employees in the company, but need to need 100 more.

Hagedorn acknowledged MBW’s industry had long struggled, saying their pay and reimbursement was not where it should be and he’d like it to be more.

“They do such important work,” he said. “The people who do it are dedicated, good folks and a lot of them do it out of the good of their hearts, not the pay.”

The Congressman wanted to know how the pandemic had further impacted the company and its services.

MBW Director of Operation Ron Algers said they were already asking a lot of direct support staff and COVID forced them to ask more. Many were already working overtime before COVID.

Some people quit out of fear of COVID and other employees were quarantined or forced to stay home with a quarantined family member.

Nelson said the vaccine mandate might force out some employees. He clarified the company is not against the vaccine, but if enforced they could lose some staff and the loss of a single staff member could have significant ripples in the company. It could result in a loss in loss of service in the rural areas.

Hagedorn said he did not support the vaccine mandate, saying trying to protect people from themselves was a bad road to go down.

“At what point does the government say ‘we don’t like your particular habit or your particular lifestyle and we are going to protect you from yourself and if you don’t do that, you lose your job.'”

Hagedorn said until a case was made that a person who did not get a vaccination was a threat to other people, he could not support a mandate.

Hagedorn asked about MBW clientele and how they are doing.

Nelson said staff had done a phenomenal job of keep clients healthy during the pandemic. He said one client passed away from COVID, but he had refused care after being hospitalized.

Alger said there is demand for their service, but unfortunately, with low staffing, they could not take on all the clients.

Nelson later said they don’t have a waiting list for clients, but that’s because most people requesting services find it elsewhere if MBW is full. Some people call many providers before finding an opening.

Asked what other needs they had, MBW staff said they needed a Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Alger explained as an example that Registered Nurses have a job code, but direct support professionals do not have a code. This impacts how the state reimburses them.

Nelson said these codes are not updated often but are up for review soon. If direct support professionals received a code, this could improve compensation across the industry. Since MBW is funded through the government, the businesses cannot simply raise salaries based on demand. Starting salary is often set by the state. This has resulted in frequent staff turnover.

Hagedorn agreed to look into the SOC code issue.

Nelson also asked Hagedorn to co-sponsor a House Bill that would support and expand ESOPs (employee stock ownership plans).

Staffing is the top problem facing MBW. Asked what qualification a person needed to work for MBW, Nelson said the company provides all the training a person needs to be a direct support professional. MBW has even hired people between the ages of 16 and 18. Teenage workers are not full direct support professionals until after they turn 18.

In the first year, employees receive 120 hours of training and then ongoing training each year. MBW does have a pay scale that rewards longevity.

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