Senator Al Franken pays a visit

Click here to read more about the Martindale family.

by Paul Rignell
Contributing writer

U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., visited an Elk River family and spoke with officials from Accurate Home Care in Otsego during a recent stop in the area.

The visit was intended as a chance for Franken to see firsthand the benefits of home health care. He is a member of the Senate Health Committee.

Sen. Al Franken meets with Isaac Martindale, the youngest of Mark and Julie Martindale’s 11 children, and caregiver Lisa McKee, a registered nurse representing Accurate Home Care. “I love working here,” she said.

Mark and Julie Martindale and their children were the family Franken met. The Martindales have adopted nine children with special needs.

The senator’s state staff includes an aide assigned to central Minnesota who has a son studying physical therapy and exercise science at Concordia College-Moorhead, and the son worked as a personal care attendant (PCA) for Accurate Home Care between college terms last summer.

Accurate employs a total of about 400 RNs, LPNs and PCAs from its offices in Otsego and Elk River, and around 1,800 of those field staff agency-wide including from branches that opened in Burnsville and St. Cloud in the past year, plus offices in Peoria, Ill., and Moline, Ill., where Accurate’s services reach clients in Iowa.

The senator told the Star News that the subject of home health care was not high on his radar as his term began in 2009, but that he has grown to understand its value and the importance of preserving it as an option for households with medical needs, from children to senior citizens.

And Accurate’s clients range across those generations. They may cover their costs for the care from a variety of sources including out-of-pocket, private insurance or Medicaid (because of how they adopted their children, the Martindales are supported by state Medical Assistance), but currently home care cannot be covered by Medicare in Minnesota, said Amy Nelson, Accurate Home Care founder, president and CEO.

“We want to make sure people are taken care of, that seniors can stay in their homes if they want to, which I think saves money, rather than moving them into a nursing home,” Nelson told Franken across an agency conference table in Otsego.

Another struggle for the home care industry is that nurses generally are finding more compensation in hospital work, Nelson said. “How do we compete with hospitals so we’re not losing people?

“How do you make it a career focus?” she asked.

But also, Nelson told the senator that increasing regulations and the requirements for PCA licensure would strengthen that care.

Now, she said, a person can pay a $125 application fee and merely pass an online exam to enter the field. “We’ve got to make it harder to get into than that,” Nelson said. “We still have to preserve quality.”

She added that the nurses working in home care can become more valuable. “They’re critical thinkers,” Nelson said. “They can do everything.”

The senator said his eyes were opened further to the values of home health care by the chat in Accurate’s headquarters, and even more by what he heard and saw in the Martindale home, where he got to meet Lisa McKee, one of the youngest child Isaac  Martindale’s nurses.

“My job is really a constant learning experience,” Franken told the Star News. “This was very moving today. This family is pretty amazing. I’ve not been in a home like this as a senator.”

He recognized benefits that the Martindale family’s Elijah, Maisy and Isaac are getting from the service. “You can see what a difference Lisa is making for Isaac,” Franken said. “We have to make sure our most vulnerable citizens have proper care.”

The senator said he feels the federal election results through Congress last month demonstrate public interest in those goals, though voters may not have considered such issues first, he added. Franken said many senior citizens can benefit simply by preserving Meals on Wheels programs nationwide, and he said it is a priority to renew the Older Americans Act to continue funding such services.

Nelson wants the home care industry to work with government for the benefit of home care clients and to reduce health care costs that could end up billed to taxpayers, she says.

Originally from Louisiana, she moved with family to the suburb of Plymouth when she was in ninth grade, and graduated from Wayzata High School. She volunteered in ER at Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park before entering college to study nursing, and then shifted her focus to business. Before starting Accurate Home Care, she had worked for two other agencies, mostly doing office work but also some personal care service. She decided to break out when finding her second employer was fraudulently billing the state, she told Star News.

Nelson explained many of Accurate’s field workers may interact with up to three clients weekly in different homes. Sometimes from day to day, they will meet with clients of varying ages, but the staff may also express a preference for working with children or seniors. “That’s the beauty of home care,” she said. “We match them up.”

Nelson said the agency has built a great relationship with the Martindales. “I think (the senator) was able to see that, whoa, this is what people are doing,” she said. “It is a fantastic success story of how wonderful home care can be.”

“There’s never a dull moment” at this home, Mark Martindale said, of the two-level house that he and Julie bought in late 2006, with eight bedrooms and an elevator. The property previously operated as an assisted living center, but the couple found the space would work for their growing family while the elevator would accommodate their son Aaron, who is wheelchair-bound, and now also Isaac. The Martindales have since built an addition to the home.

They credit home care services for giving their children a better quality of life. Four of the five Accurate nurses that visit the home regularly have been there since the start with Elijah at the Elk River home, and two accompanied Mark and Julie on a recent trip to Walt Disney World so it could be a family event.

“I think they thrive in a whole different way,” Mark said of Elijah, Maisy and Isaac. “We have good hospitals here, but there’s something to be said for having a family in a family environment.

“We saw a need. It’s a lot of work to keep things going here, but we wouldn’t change anything.”

Julie added: “I don’t know why everybody doesn’t do it.”

“With tough times and good times, it’s just all part of family,” Mark concluded. “We really want to stay as a family.”