Grassroots Advocates Build Bridges in Missouri

Grassroots | May 04, 2018 | by Lisa Sanders

Staff and residents from St. Louis-based Bethesda Health Group share stories with lawmakers to advocate for change to Missouri's Medicaid reimbursement

“Bridge the Gap.” These three vital words, emblazoned on bright orange t-shirts, served as the mantra for budget reform brought to the hallways of the Missouri state capitol last month by a determined group of older adults from Bethesda Health Group, a St. Louis-based aging services organization.

The group of Bethesda residents, along with Bethesda staff, travelled to Jefferson City, MO where they met with legislators and spoke passionately about the impact of chronic Medicaid underfunding. Their stories delivered real-life experiences that illustrate the need to close the gap between Medicaid caregiver costs and state reimbursement.

Ready to talk: advocates at the state capitol in Jefferson City

As they boarded the bus home, weary but encouraged after a day packed with face-to-face meetings and conversations, the residents felt their efforts made an impact -- impact encouraged and supported by LeadingAge Missouri, but planned and executed by Bethesda staff leaders Chris Crouch, Michelle Glass and Nathan Torno.

As a Senior General Manager at one of Bethesda’s retirement communities, Mr. Torno is acutely aware of how inadequate funding hurts seniors and the organizations that provide care, which is why he has taken a leadership role in Bethesda’s Medicaid budget reform effort. Missouri, perennially ranked near last among all states for Medicaid reimbursement, currently underfunds payment for long-term care for the frail elderly on average $25 per day. The result: organizations like Bethesda are forced to make difficult decisions, such as cutting staff, ending resident programs or closing neighborhoods on the floors of a nursing home.

The advocacy-focused April 4 trek grew out of a project undertaken by Mr. Torno, a fellow in LeadingAge 2018 Leadership Academy, focused on raising awareness about the impact of underfunding Medicaid in Missouri through grassroots efforts. For example, at Bethesda, he was integral in the development of the messages shared in resident Town Halls and used in flyers and issue briefs by employees, volunteers, residents and their families in letters and emails sent to legislators. He also helped to coordinate the bus trip to Jefferson City and supported Bethesda residents as their stories.

“We need help,” one resident told a staffer of Senator Bob Onder. “Some day, this could be the Senator’s mom, or his Grandma. You never think it is going to hit home, but it does. It hit my family.”

“The personal stories, whether written or spoken, make a huge impact,” said Mr. Torno. “That is why is it so important to engage residents to keep this effort moving forward. It will be a long journey to bridge this gap completely. We are taking it step by step.”