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Meet Vicki Niedermayer of Helping Restore Ability in Arlington

Today we’d like to introduce you to Vicki Niedermayer.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Vicki. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I was born a poor black farmer…haha! I grew up in Arlington, Texas and have lived in this area pretty much all my life. Starting from the time I was a little tyke, my motto was ‘me do meself’, according to my parents, and even though I had no idea what a leader was, it was pretty clear early on that leadership was just a part of my DNA. When I was 8 years old, I established a neighborhood club, and I charged all of the kids in my neighborhood 10 cents per week to belong to my club. We met in the storm cellar of my house, established rules and entry criteria for the club, and planned weekly adventures together, including treks to a local horse farm, catching tadpoles in the creek, picnics, explorations of local tree houses, and undercover forays into the backyards of those who had pools and trampolines!

I enjoy people, and when I left for A&M, I had no idea what I wanted to become when I grew up. Elective courses in psychology turned into a lifelong passion for understanding what makes people tick, and how to help them. I became a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), and have worked with people of differing abilities my entire career.

What’s that saying, I’ve never worked a day in my life, because I love what I do and so for me, it’s not work? Amen.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
When I joined the agency in 2001, it was a small nonprofit that provided services to fewer than 100 adults with physical disabilities in the DFW area only. Since that time, we have grown to providing care for over 1,000 low income Texans throughout the entire state, with a care crew of over 2,200 caregivers, serving people of all ages with all types of disabling conditions through every program available in Texas. This has definitely not been easy. Because we serve people who typically qualify for Medicaid or Medicaid waiver programs, our reimbursement rate in extremely low, and we operate on only a 5% administrative rate. This means that literally 95 cents of every dollar go directly into the pocket of the caregiver in our clients’ homes. With every legislative session, we face challenges to advocate for the ‘least of the least’, and this session was no different. In fact, though I’ve been in this business for over 30 years, I’ve never seen it this contentious here in Texas.

The changeover to Managed Care Organizations (MCO’s) for those on Medicaid has its benefits and challenges, with the slowdown in reimbursement to providers such as HRA literally jeopardizing services every day, as evidenced by the number of agencies closing their doors and going out of business weekly. In fact, two agencies closed last week alone, and unfortunately this is becoming more and more the case.

Our agency grew 12% last year alone, because of other agencies closing down and referring their clients to us. Our contracts with the state require that if a person on Medicaid qualifies for long term care, and selects our agency to provide that service, we cannot turn them away. So the closure of other agencies means that we must grow, whether we have adequate cash flow to support that growth or not. If GM gets an order for 100 trucks, and can only build 10 trucks a week, the customer must wait. They don’t have to hire more workers, build another plant, fund all of that growth, and then wait to be paid for sometimes many months for those trucks.

This is not the case with agencies such as ours. If the client selects HRA for their services, we must enroll the client, hire and train the staff, and work with the state to get them qualified and authorized for services right away – with no funding to do so until AFTER the caregiver begins working in the client home. It’s a catch 22 – as one legislator told me this Spring, “It’s a house of cards on the verge of collapse, a crisis waiting to happen”. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Helping Restore Ability – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
HRA is unique in that we are a nonprofit agency that provides services for low income people of all ages, children and adults, in every county of the state of Texas and for people with all types of disabling conditions. Most agencies that provide this service are for profit companies that do not have the mission that we do, which is to serve that low income Texan who typically qualifies for Medicaid. We operate on a 5% margin, meaning that literally 95 cents of every dollar earned goes straight into the pocket of the caregiver providing services in the home of those we serve.

We assist with personal attendant care, such as bathing, dressing, feeding, grooming, helping move around from the bed to the wheelchair to the shower, and light housekeeping. Our whole mission is to help the person stay in their homes, and out of institutions such as hospitals and nursing homes, as long as possible. We envision a future in which no Texas with a disability lacks the resources they need to live a full and productive, independent life.

We are an award-winning agency, named as an Aggie 100 company (given to the fastest growing top 100 companies in the world owned or operated by an Aggie), and as the Nonprofit of the Year by the Arlington Chamber of Commerce. We partner with local universities and academia in conducting research that will ultimately enhance the lives of people with disabilities worldwide, such as the work that we are doing with UTA in the development of robots that can assist those using wheelchairs (funded by NIDILRR – National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, Rehabilitation and Research). as well as the development of robots to serve as personal attendants for people with intellectual disabilities (funded by the National Science Foundation). With over 10,000 people per day turning 60 years old, the lack of adequate caregivers to support this population is a growing problem, and we are on the cutting edge on developing strategies to address this need.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
Success is determined one person at a time. Ever heard of the starfish story? It makes a difference to that one starfish we throw back into the sea. And in order to be at the right place on the beach to pick up that one starfish, you have to plan a trip to the beach. You have to be in the right place at the right time, which requires dreaming, vision, forethought, planning, execution of that plan, adjusting to changes in the wind, flexibility, openness to innovation and creativity and ‘different’, a bit of luck – and faith.

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