The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 7, 2013

Human services commissioner visits VINE during information quest

By Robb Murray
Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO — When Greg White came to Marlys Jorgenson’s home to see what kind of help VINE Faith in Action could give her, he was saddened.

Jorgenson has been caring for an ailing husband, and much of that care involves doing lots of laundry. So her routine was to gather up the laundry in a basket and head for the staircase; the washer and dryer were in the basement.

Instead of carrying it down the stairs, Jorgenson, who is elderly, had to kick the basket of laundry down the stairs, descend the stairs, and gather it all up again.

When the laundry was done, she’d carry it up the stairs, holding the basket of laundry in one hand a cane in the other.

“It broke my heart,” White said, sitting in a chair in Jorgenson’s living room Thursday, explaining how VINE helped install main floor laundry appliances for her.

Across the room in another chair was a woman who’d driven all the way from St. Paul to hear stories like this in the hopes that she can make meaningful change to the way we care for the elderly in Minnesota.

Lucinda Jesson, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Services, came to Mankato to visit with representatives of VINE and people who have been affected by them.

“The reason I’m here,” she told a group a Mankato residents, “is to understand at a fundamental level what places like VINE are doing that are making people’s lives better.”

Jesson is hoping to redesign the way the state funds human services through an initiative called Reform 2020. She wants to shift money to programs that can help people stay in their homes longer. Doing that, she said, not only can keep people happier, but save taxpayers money. By not entering a nursing home, they can put off having to use Medicare for years or, in some cases, forever.

“Helping people stay home is a moral imperative,” Jesson told the group, “but it’s also a financial one.”

Jesson said her Reform 2020 plan, which is part of Gov. Mark Dayton’s 2014 budget, has bipartisan support and she expects it will pass.

 But the plan leaves room for coming up with new and innovative ways to help seniors live at home. And that’s why she wanted to hear about VINE.

“I understand this is an organization that does a really good job at it,” Jesson said.

She listened to stories in a roundtable discussion from women who have had to deal with the physical or mental demise of a spouse. In each case, they told of how VINE stepped in and helped.

“I would not have made it were it not for these guys,” said Becky Sullivan, a pastor.

Kathleen Rigdon said it was extremely difficult for her to drop her husband off at a respite program. But her husband grew to love it. And even though she felt bad for doing it, she was grateful to VINE for offering the program.

Jesson said she was touched by all the stories. In Jorgenson’s case, her husband has just been hospitalized

“It is so kind of you to let us come over here,” Jesson told Jorgenson, “in the middle of all this.”

Said Jorgenson, “I was just so thankful they were able to do so much for me.”