By Clay Schuldt, New Ulm Journal - NEW ULM — Republican Candidate for Minnesota’s First District Congressional seat, Jim Hagedorn, visited MBW Company in New Ulm Friday afternoon.
Hagedorn sat down with MBW staff to listen to concerns and issues facing the business. Hagedorn made few comments during visits. He said this visit was a chance for him to listen and learn about the company.
MBW Company was founded in 1978 to provide services to people with developmental disabilities. The company helps reintegrate those with disabilities into the community. Today the company employs 200 people throughout the community. Staff provides an services such as Adult Foster Care homes, Intermediate Care Facilities and support services. In 2003, MBW became an employee owned corporation (ESOP).
MBW CEO Ric Nelson said that as owner of the company, the employees have a greater interest is in maintaining and improving the business.
Nelson told Hagedorn at the start of the meeting that MBW receives much of its funding through the Medicare programs and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s recent comments on Medicare reform have raised concerns.
“Medicare is an important part of what we do here,” Nelson said.
Hagedorn said any Medicare reforms would not likely hinder the work of MBW.
As with many businesses in southern Minnesota, MBW has struggled with maintaining a steady workforce. The company currently has 40 open weekend positions. The employee-owned nature of the business benefits staff as they are reaching retirement, but the younger and newer employees need a decent salary upfront. Some staff are reluctant to take on full-time position because it means losing benefits. Those with children often need to find childcare services that can often cost more than they could earn.
Brandy Kuck said that there are people who want to get off benefits, but cannot do that with the starting wages offered in these areas.
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. Staff working with MBW clients receive extensive and continual training.
“Life can depend on the skills of staff,” Kuck said. She gave the example of an individual whose ventilator stopped operating and staff was required to manually help the person breathe. Other times it is a matter of administrating the correct medications. Despite the amount of skilled work involved the employees are not necessarily being adequately compensated.
Nelson said the turnover can have a negative effect on clients as well. “Some clients feel bad about staff leaving because in some ways they are like family to them,” he said.
Staff interact with clients in a variety of situations, some personal. It can be difficult to clients to continue to open up to new employees with each staff turnover.
Hagedorn was reminded by staff that if MBW is unable to provide services many of the clients living relatively independent live and contributing to the community will end up costing the government more in the long run.
MBW is one of the larger employers in New Ulm and has a significant impact on the community. In terms of groceries purchased for the group homes MBW spends $200,000 a year within New Ulm.
“We are a big contributor to the rural economy,” Nelson said.
MBW and other similar care providers continue to seek employee compensation increases. In the past, State Sen. Gary Dahms and Rep. Paul Torkelson have supported bills like the Five Percent Campaign to help caregivers across the state. Dahms had even helped author previous compensation bills.
Hagedorn said that if was good enough for Dahms it was good enough for him. Hagedorn said this was a learning experience for him. He was surprised to learn how many families were dependent on the services provided by MBW.
“They are doing great work,” Hagedorn said. “I appreciate what they do and your devotion to community you serve.”