Aug. 28, 2006

AME director finds working with disabled people enjoyable

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

Marty McGraw of Cokato had the members of the Cokato Dassel Rotary roaring with laughter about the fun and humorous times he has had working with AME Community Services, Inc.

McGraw told the Rotarians who were meeting Aug. 17 at Daniel’s Family Restaurant in Cokato that people often think working with the developmentally disabled is difficult. It’s not.

McGraw enjoys it immensely. It is a bigger challenge for him to manage the 120 employees in AME, a residential and in-home family support service, he said.

McGraw started AME, named after this daughters, Anna, Molly and Elizabeth, in 1992 in Buffalo. There are 16 homes now and six are in Cokato. The Cokato homes employ 40 people and have a budget of $950,000, McGraw said.

Before the 1970s, developmentally disabled people were put into institutions. McGraw showed slides of the Cambridge institution, a large, dark, forbidding-looking brick building. Often residents in institutions were kept in cribs that were more like cages, or kept in a tranquilized stupor, McGraw said.

“The evolution of a society can be judged by the way they take care of those who cannot take care of themselves,” McGraw said.

Society changed, though. McGraw showed slides of the inviting and comfortable home on Tuva Road in Cokato and the Warner Care Home in 1974.

The staff ratio in an AME residence is one staff member for four residents, he said.

AME has two types of residences, one for those with Prader-Willi Syndrome, and another set of residences for those with autism, Down’s syndrome, fragile X syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

People with Prader-Willi Syndrome have an eating disorder.

“Their minds are telling them they’re starving,” McGraw said.

They have an insatiable need to eat or drink whatever they can get their hands on, he said.

Homes for those with Prader-Willi are specially designed to separate the residents from the kitchen area where food is stored and prepared.

People with Prader-Willi are mentally disabled also, but often have superior verbal skills. They use these verbal skills to procure more food, McGraw said.

AME provides prescribed diet, tailored exercise and weight management plans.

McGraw regaled the group with stories about individual residents from several of the other AME homes as well, and how much fun he had in their company.

AME residents are referred through county case management and funded by medical assistance. About 50 percent of the funds comes from the federal government, 47 percent from the state, and 3 percent from the county. McGraw pointed out the funding increased less than 3 percent each year but his insurance costs increased 25 percent.

McGraw said Cokato residents have been supportive and welcoming to the developmentally disabled in AME. As an example, he told how a few years ago one of the AME residents got lost on his regular walk to work.

A Cokato driver noticed his confusion and gave him a ride to Evangelical Lutheran Church. Not only did the driver know where the AME resident intended to go, but also got him there on time, McGraw said.

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