Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Refugee Defined

Language matters. As we discuss refugee and immigration issues with people on both ends of the political spectrum, it is clear that language divides. We have not done a good enough job educating people on the simple definitions of a refugee, immigrant, and asylees.

A refugee is a person who has had to flee her/his country of origin out of fear of persecution or death. I have started to use the term legal refugee. Legal refugees are people who have been extreme-vetted, generally wait years in a refugee camp in a third country, and then are invited by the United States government to come live in the United States. Non-legal refugees could slip into the US, but that doesn’t happen often as it’s too difficult to get to the United States. A good example of non-legal refugees would be the boat-loads of Syrian refugees making their way uninvited across the Mediterranean Sea into Europe. I would still categorize non-legal refugees as illegal immigrants.

An immigrant is someone who has chosen to leave her/his country of origin for economic and other reasons. Legal immigrants are those who have applied to the United States and been granted permission to enter the country. An illegal immigrant is someone who has entered the U.S. without that permission, or who overstayed their time if here on a time-limited status. A 2017 study estimates that 42% of the illegal immigrants, 4.5 million people, are here because they have overstayed their expired visa!

Asylees are people who have entered the U.S. or arrived at a port of entry and requested asylum to escape persecution or death in their country of origin. Chinese people account for the most asylees in the U.S., followed by El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, Mexico, India, Nepal….

When Lutheran Services Carolinas talks about serving legal refugees, and advocating for legal immigrants to fill jobs when there are no Americans to fill them, I have heard no opposition save the most extreme. Language matters.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Seeing Jesus

Dear Friends,

I had the opportunity to visit a border state on June 11, 2019 with a group of health and human services leaders. It's easy to fall into the political debates; it's hard to ignore suffering people.

A bus took us to a very nice neighborhood where a number of the homes have been built by Habitat. In a row of six Habitat houses, three are owned by legal refugees who escaped war and death for a new life in America. The home owners were from Afghanistan and the Congo. They are succeeding! They are working homeowners who keep a spotlessly clean home. All three proudly opened thier homes for us to tour and talk about thier journey. The extreme political rhetoric on both sides doesn't match reality.

Our next stop was an aging auto repair shop where we met the proprietor and another entrepreneur, Iraq and Cuban refugees respectively. Both escaped to come pursue the American dream. The car repairman now employs eight people and has a successful business. The other has started a commercial cleaning service that is growing rapidly. He's keeping his day job till he's got enough business and help to transition to full time. Both took out and quickly repaid a micro loan from a sister Lutheran organization to our Lutheran Services Carolinas. The extreme political rhetoric on both sides doesn't match reality.

Our last stop was to a church where every Monday one or two ICE buses pull up and dump approximately 100 asylum seekers. The Lutheran organization arranges housing, communications, clothing, etc. for these people who are on their way to sponsoring family members across the country. We had the privilege of plating and serving lunch and visiting with 47 of these asylum seekers. They had been in the United States for less than 24 hours. Thanks to the Lutherans, they had had a good night's sleep, a shower, etc. after a horrible ordeal. The extreme political rhetoric on both sides doesn't match reality.

The Bible tells us that when we clothed and fed those in need, we have done the same to Jesus. Wow, I saw Jesus this week.

Monday, May 20, 2019


Criminal podcast 114 was interesting, then went sideways into infuriatingly one-sided. They started bashing nursing homes, ignorant that many organizations have transformed into skilled living communities.

The speakers stated that the big problem with taking care of someone’s body is forgetting about their mind, and giving agency and dignity to people. “No one listens to you when you’re in a nursing home. No one listens to you when you’re over 65.” Then they discussed the rate of suicide, and nursing homes try to make residents easy to manage, just getting their bodies thru the day. Fake news!

Since one person is a thief, do we extrapolate that all people are thieves?

The speakers obviously have not heard of person-centered care, or life in a Lutheran Services Carolinas community: chaplains, activities from singalongs to games to beach trips, one on one visits with bedbound people, snow sledding, painting classes for people with memory issues, drum circles, political discussions,.... People can sleep late, stay up till all hours, it’s their call, not ours.

Go see for yourself! And go visit to make life better for a person living in any assisted or skilled living community!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Remarks to NC Lutheran Assembly

I had the opportunity to share a brief message about Lutheran Services Carolinas with the NC state Lutheran assembly on June 1, 2018. Here's what I shared about the amazing and passionate work of LSC.

Good afternoon!

The theme of this assembly is “We are the church for the sake of the world.”

We are the church with you, and we stand on the shoulders of YOU giants! In 1960 we were birthed by Drs. Norris, Lippard, Conrad, and each of you, the NC Synod. We started with one little health care center in Hickory in 1961 and are now serving from Asheville to Wilmington! We added child and family services in 1979, thanks to Bill Brittain, Dr. Misenheimer, and all of you!

This makes me want us to chant:

God is good - all the time
All the time - God is good

Thank you for your partnership! As the church together, LSC has chosen to reach out as Lutheran, as Christian, and as a diverse and inclusive ministry!

While other Lutheran organizations around the country struggle with identity including taking Lutheran out of their name, we chose to lead with Lutheran as in Lutheran Services Carolinas!

While other Christian ministries are taking Christ out of their missions, LSC has chosen to lead with, “Empowered by Christ!”

LSC purchased an old nursing home in Winston back in 2001 that was filled with precious children of God: 100% indigent and almost all persons of color. We built them a beautiful new $10M health care community in the heart of East Winston, and we’ve been trying to learn and model diversity and inclusion ever since.

We are the church!

We are the church to:
Elders needing nursing home and assisted living care, especially and passionately for those who can’t afford to pay!
Crack babies in need of therapeutic foster care.
Elders needing support at home!
People with developmental disabilities needing a group home or in a home with a host family.
Elders looking for safety, security, and community at Lutheridge, Salisbury, and Wilmington!
Refugees coming to America to escape a death sentence and to start a new life!
Babies looking to be adopted, and foster children to be adopted.
Homes for homeless veterans and homes for people with traumatic brain injury.
Foster homes for unaccompanied alien children whose parents sent them here to escape death or the slow death of gang violence.
Partnerships in low income senior apartments in Hickory and Dallas, and partnerships in PACE programs for low income citizens in Gastonia and Hickory.
Those in crisis and those whose lives have been forever changed by disasters, like Hurricane Matthew!

We are the church to thousands of people. We do this with YOU, thru 2,140 LSC teammates, through $139M worth of programs and services.

And there’s more to come!, more of all of the above along with: Renovations and additions at Salisbury and Albemarle, new senior living apartments in Clemmons, Trinity Landing - a new retirement center in Wilmington, and much more.

Thanks be to God and His NC Synod, who fulfill His mission, “Empowered by Christ, we walk together with all those we serve.”


Thursday, December 14, 2017

A New Reformation

Some thoughts on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

A new Reformation?

Jesus Christ turned our world on its head, but it seems society, then and now, just won’t listen. We persist in allowing society and its winners define who the winners and losers are.

I personally come from a long line of losers: Eve and Adam got kicked out of the garden; Jesus was crucified; Martin Luther was excommunicated. My poor immigrant ancestors fled Germany and then were on the wrong side of the Civil War; and people of my German heritage created one of the saddest eras in human history that included the horrors of Adolph Hitler and the Holocaust.

Times and perspectives change. From that ignominious past, I now find myself more of a winner according to the societal definition: I have a strong family, a good education, and a good job. I’m privileged, and in good health. Much has been handed to me, and I have worked hard to take advantage of what was given to me.

Let’s throw Lutheran Services Carolinas in there too. As CEO I find it difficult to talk independently because we’re all in this together. LSC has been on a path from small nonprofit to fairly significant two-state ministry. With a $139 million budget, LSC has more than 2,000 teammates who work to provide multiple services. LSC has been effective, strong and nimble. We are growing.

What can LSC do as an organization, and what can I do as an individual to honor what God has provided? I guess we and I could protect our positions, but that’s not very godly. I am reminded of the M’s: Matthew and Micah. Christ tells us that the second commandment, right after loving God, is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. In Micah we are taught to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

Christ turns winners and losers on their heads. Think of the Resurrection. Think of the rich man and the eye of the needle. Think about societal success versus Christ’s vision for humanity.

Here in 2017, on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we have the opportunity to participate in a new Reformation to serve seniors, children, and families who don’t have the resources or ability to care for themselves. Our Reformation vision and mission give us hands to serve and voices to advocate. Government is not all bad. In our country, government and nonprofits like LSC collaborate to provide essential services to people – people who could be you and me. So we lift our voices for our neighbors, often those who can’t speak for themselves: for nursing home residents, direct care workers who deserve a living wage, and foster children. We lift our voices for affordable health insurance for all; we lift our voices for veterans, refugees, and people with developmental disabilities and mental illness.

Please join LSC in embracing our heritage and using it and our voice to love our neighbor.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Follow Up From Florida, Texas, and Gulf Coast Disasters

Dear Lutheran Services Carolinas Family and Friends:

You have seen news coverage about the emergency response following the recent hurricanes in Florida, Texas and along the Gulf Coast. Our prayers and thoughts are with the victims of these natural disasters. You have seen news reports about the evacuations of people and institutions. Our mission statement is: “Empowered by Christ, we walk together with all we serve.” Walking together starts with safety, so I want reassure you that the safety of the people we serve is our top priority.

Each of our senior living and long term care communities, foster families, homes for people with developmental disabilities, etc. has a detailed disaster plan. Each of our senior communities has a generator, and LSC’s four newest communities have a generator that will operate the entire building. The plan for our communities and group homes includes procedures for sheltering in place as well as evacuating safely, if that is necessary. We ensure that food, water and medical supplies are available. We also have detailed plans for communicating with family members during an emergency.

Having a plan is important, but it’s just the first step. Our staff has taken time to practice implementing our emergency procedures. Throughout the year, we conduct regular fire drills as well as other disaster training. We work closely with our local first responders, including fire and police departments as well as the power company, food suppliers, water supplier, etc. to ensure we have their support during any situation that occurs.

We are entrusted with the care of our parents, grandparents, children, and friends. Each day, we do all we can to fulfill that promise. That includes being prepared for all circumstances, including natural disasters or other emergencies. While complete preparation is impossible as disasters are so unpredictable and unique, we commit to routine planning and preparation to do our best.

LSC continues to provide disaster recovery services from long-forgotten disasters in both South and North Carolina. This work is helping many who need it most, and it's raising disaster awareness for all of us. Let's let all these disasters be a lesson for all of us to plan for disasters professionally and personally!

Please be in touch with us if we can answer any questions or concerns.

Thank you for your prayers, and for reading this.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Tilting At Windmills, Parts 1 and 2

I try to keep my head down and do my work, but every once in a while I just can’t help but tilt at a windmill. I’ve tilted twice recently, and with the same results as Don Quixote.

My first windmill is an issue that frustrates long term care providers across the country, specifically for me here in North Carolina. The federal government has created a punitive and in many cases perfection-requiring regulatory environment. Violations can easily result in fines and other penalties. The fines were my latest windmill.

The federal government (Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services or CMS) determined that these fines will accumulate and then can only be used to improve the quality in nursing homes across in our case the state of NC. The fines can only be accessed by applying for grants from the fund of fines. It was particularly frustrating to hear that the fines have accumulated to a total of $23 million! That money sitting in the bank is not improving quality for anyone.

In NC, state employees and the NC Culture Change Coalition review and preliminarily approve all grants, which are then approved or disapproved by the federal government. The state employees and the Coalition have been extremely helpful and collaborative. But the federal restrictions are onerous.

I wrote the head of CMS in hopes that the new federal administration’s desire to relieve regulatory burdens might provide some relief. Utilizing fines to improve quality is a worthy goal; it’s just that the bureaucracy gets in the way. The Death of Common Sense is the book that helped shape me years ago. Read it if you have time.

Now, I realize my plan was way out there, and way too simple. Since there is $23 million sitting there, nearly inaccessible, why not call a re-set. My suggestion was to leave $3 million in the fund to fund the few grant requests that can pass muster. I suggested the other $20 million be used to give a $500 bonus to every full time certified nursing assistant (CNA) who works in nursing homes in North Carolina. Even today, I cannot think of anything that would be more beneficial to the quality of care of all of our state’s residents than the promise of two years of bonuses. But apparently and sadly, the federal rules do not allow the fine money to be used for the things like wages or bonuses that would have the greatest impact on quality.

There were two reasons for tilting at this particular windmill: to honor every North Carolina CNA for their hard, hard work and because I thought we could take the lead on this issue. You see, LSC’s nursing home leaders have been very innovative, and we were willing to brave the regulatory requirements. We’ve gotten our fair share of the grant money, or more, so we didn’t have to whine because we weren’t getting grants.

Anyway, I had my say and got the reply I was expecting. My only hope is that this attention and the current administration’s desire to rein in over-regulation might conspire to get that money used to improve the quality in our state’s nursing facilities.
Round two is not quite so bad, and I didn’t start it, thank you very much!

The last week in August 2017 the Governor of South Carolina sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security requesting that no refugees from the 6 Muslim countries in the Afghanistan area be relocated to SC. We immediately started getting press requests.

I shared that LSC has resettled thousands of South Carolinians from around the world, and will continue to do so in accordance with all applicable laws. The United States already performs extreme vetting on every refugee entering the country, which we feel is important to keep us all safe. After resettling over 12,000 refugees in the Carolinas without incident, LSC encourages all people to fulfill our biblical mandates to love one another and to welcome the stranger.

Further, we are in midst of the largest humanitarian crisis in world history. The US has always been a world leader and we need to be leading now.

At a time when our government has drastically cut the number of refugees coming to freedom, I have been advocating the US should be admitting 200,000 refugees each year. If we are going the be the leaders of the free world, we need to start leading!

The tilting is really trying to make sense out of the discussion. Refugees are already extreme vetted! No refugee has killed anyone in the United States since the Refugee Act of 1980 was enacted! Refugees are not a threat. I want our governments spending their time and energy on a government’s mission of public welfare and public safety. That means jobs, mental health, crime, drugs, and national defense. Now that’s tilting!