Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Belated Thanks to Kevin Sullivan, and R.I.P.

When I started law school in 2003 I moved away from home for the first time, going from Eau Claire, WI, a city of about 68,000, to Minneapolis, MN, one of the largest urban metropolises in the country. It also meant that I moved out of my parent’s house—a very safe, comfortable, accessible, and above all, insulated environment—for the very first time as well. That said, when I moved to Minneapolis I faced three major hurdles to striking out on my own: 1) finding fully accessible housing (with indoor parking) that would allow me to live my lifestyle safely and comfortably, 2) figuring out who would help me out with my personal cares in the morning, and be readily available if I needed extra help at any point during the rest of the day as well, and 3) how I would get gas for my van since I couldn’t fill my tank on my own and my parents, sister, friends, etc. who helped me around Eau Claire were 90 minutes away.

On Thursday August 21, 2003—the very same day that I started law school classes (a nasty bout of cellulitis and a blood clot on my lower right leg had me hospitalized for five days and delayed my move to Minneapolis by three days) I moved into the rehab residence at the Courage Center in Golden Valley, MN on a temporary basis while waiting hurry-up-and-wait style for my name to work it’s way up to the top of the waiting lists of about a dozen buildings that had wheelchair  accessible apartments. Unfortunately, they were in high demand with slow turnover. At the time having to live at Courage felt like a step backwards because I went from a mostly private apartment-like setting to a quasi-hospital rehab setting that I graduated from seven years prior. But it was a good transitional environment with nursing and attendant care staff on hand 24 hours a day. Within a week of moving in I drove around the area surrounding Courage on a night off from classes to familiarize myself with my new neighborhood and discovered a mom and pop style full service gas station called the Robbinsdale Oil Company, so that was a huge relief. I still use it as my primary gas station too.

Early that November my name finally got to the top of the waiting list at an apartment building with a new unit opening and I got a move in date of November 14. While I was just starting to try to figure out the personal care attendant (PCA) hurdle, which had to be set up by the time I moved in of course, my good friend Kurt, who was the Courage Center residence intake coordinator at the time, suggested that I go with In Home Personal Care. He told me that it was a high quality PCA company that was founded  by a quadriplegic named Kevin Sullivan. As soon as he said the word “quadriplegic” I didn’t need to hear any more: In Home it was. I figured that any PCA company founded by a fellow quad a) had instant credibility and b) would be specifically tailored to suit all of my personal care needs, because with us having similar disabilities it was practically guaranteed that any personal cares/daily tasks that he needed help with I did too. In fact, when you get put on hold when you call the company part of the message loop featured his voice in very Hair Club For Men ad-like fashion essentially saying “…and I’m also a client…” Within days I had made contact and was promptly brought into the fold. And I’ve been a client of the company ever since.

That is why I was saddened to hear of the passing of Kevin in June.* I still don’t know any details about the cause of his death other than the fact that he was found dead in his van in the parking lot of a grocery store. That notion alone made me cringe because the being stuck in my van alone when I really need help in an emergency scenario has run through my mind dozens of times in my fifteen years of being a quad. It’s in those moments that not having full finger function to call 911 really fast, having your wheelchair stuck in the vehicle’s safety lockdown, or to not be able to get the van’s ramp down quickly enough really seem to enhance the difficulties of living with such a disability.

Unfortunately, I never got a chance to meet Kevin either. The closest that I ever got was that I almost talked to him once. I was having nagging difficulties with a few personal care issues and asked for his number from someone in the office so that I could seek advice from someone who had more quad life experience than I did. It never got beyond an exchange of voicemails though. But he seemed like a good guy. I know that he was generous with his clients, giving us Christmas gift packages almost every year, a signed card with a $10 Target gift card inside for birthdays, threw client appreciation summer picnic parties, and got tickets for accessible seats at Minnesota Twins games that clients could use free of charge.

But the company that he founded is great and it has been, and continues to be tailor made to my personal care assistance requirements, and is thus invaluable to letting me live as independently as possible every day. The office is staffed with really great people who are as friendly and professional as they are helpful, and they strive to ensure that my PCA needs are covered as well as possible. Whether I need a PCA for a new permanent shift, a temporary fill-in, an on call visit, or a replacement in a pinch when someone can’t make it to my place in the morning the office has always staffed me adequately and efficiently. And that is guided by Kevin’s vision for the company.

But the key component is that In Home puts the ultimate PCA personnel power into my hands, which is the way that it should be in my opinion. When I lived at home in Eau Claire the only PCA agency in town was a home healthcare unit that was run through a local a hospital and they did all of the personnel scheduling, so most mornings I didn’t know which home health aide, good or bad, was coming to help me in the morning until they arrived, and that was very frustrating. By contrast, at In Home they do all the behind the scenes stuff like advertising, hiring, background checks, training, etc. but I do the more personal interview and decide who comes in to help me and when I want them to show up. That way it ensures that I get help from competent PCAs who can handle my routine successfully, and that I can get along with day seven days a week. It’s been a great partnership and I have Kevin to thank for that.

Above all, Kevin Sullivan’s advocacy for supreme independence and his business acumen for starting and building In Home Personal Care to what it is today are something to be admired. And the great news going forward is that the day to day operations of the company will continue to run uninterrupted and stay committed to Kevin’s vision of providing quality personal care services to people with disabilities.

May he rest in peace.

(*A virus left my computer—and a large portion of the draft of this post—out of commission for the better part of this past month or this would have gone up more timely.)