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!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Refugee Services

A friend pointed out to me last week that our Facebook page had been heavily filled with refugee services for the last couple weeks, and what was up with that. That is true and it is as it should be. LSC and I have posted a number of pictures of nursing home visits and other services, but refugees are the current hot topic.

LSC's refugee services is a relatively small program, about $2.5 million in our budget of about $130 million. But size doesn't matter when we stand up for what's right. There's a song about needing to stand up for something or you'll fall for anything.

Much like a big sister standing up for her little brother, LSC stands for and stands up for the people we serve--in every program. Today it's refugees, tomorrow it will be nursing home residents or foster children.

Refugee services has become a political issue; facts are irrelevant to red meat politics. That's a sad state of affairs, but one we have to address with steadfastness and facts. The truth is LSC has been resettling refugees in the Carolinas since 1979. We have resettled people from many different religions and from all parts of the world. And with no issues! Refugees coming to the United States are already "extreme vetted," including biometric screening, interrogation-style interviews with trained professionals, and years of waiting in refugee camps. That is extreme!

Much of the problem is education. Our refugees get lumped in with the refugee flood into Europe, which is the exact opposite: no vetting, no identification, just people walking right in to European countries. People also don't understand the concept of undocumented immigrants, often called illegal immigrants as compared to refugees. Again, they are sneaking in or overstaying visas. Refugees are officially invited in by the United States government after "extreme vetting," and after approval by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

LSC's refugee services will probably shrink for the next few years from a paltry 460 to an even smaller probably 250. The U.S. has decided to reduce the number of refugees admitted to the US from 110,000 to 50,000. LSC will continue to serve, and eventually politics will move on to other issues. In my opinion, the US should be resettling at least 200,000 refugees each year to participate as a humanitarian leader in the world. US leadership is needed now more that ever, as the world is in its largest crisis of displaced people in recorded history: 65 million displaced people, among them includes $21 million refugees worldwide.

Facts matter. LSC will continue to do this important work. Today refugees are front and center, tomorrow it will be another group of people. But always, LSC will fulfill its mission: Empowered by Christ, we walk together with all we serve!