When she hears people talking about whether or not to vaccinate their children, HCO Board Member, Laurel Kruse, wants to take them aside and say, “Let me tell you my story.” Her son, Chris, contracted chicken pox many years ago. There was no vaccine yet available at the time, and at 1 ½ years old, he became very ill and suffered seizures as a result of the disease. Though he recovered, he had lost the speech skills he had developed, and he began suffering from behavior problems.
Laurel and her family became familiar with Home and Community Options when, at the age of three, Chris became eligible for respite services. “At that time,” Laurel shared, “there were no day care programs for special needs children.” The respite care meant that Laurel and her husband, Kevin, were able to go to their daughters’ concerts and sporting events without needing to worry about who would take care of Chris. His sisters, Brianna and Andrea, are now adults and live in the Winona area.
When HCO began providing services to Chris after school, the Kruse family was very grateful. Chris loved it because, like his sisters, he too had somewhere to go after school. He attended Jefferson School in Winona, as well as Winona Middle School and Winona Senior High. Laurel gives very high marks to the special ed staff at those schools.
When Laurel was approached about joining the HCO Board, she says she felt that it was her chance to give back to an organization that has given so much to her family. “They are full of caring, wonderful people,” she shares. Laurel is a nurse and serves on HCO’s Quality Assurance and Human Rights Committees, where her medical training helps her to contribute.
Chris, now 33, currently lives in one of HCO’s residential programs. The pandemic has been hard on him – he had been working at the DAC before COVID-19 and loving it. He has yet to return to work, and she knows that he misses the routine and camaraderie of the workplace. COVID-19 has been hard on the entire HCO organization, affecting each program differently. Laurel points out that many of HCO’s part-time staff who are in healthcare and personal care services fields are primarily students. Local university schedules and COVID-19 restrictions continue to have a big impact on staffing, causing additional challenges for HCO’s programs to be able to provide critical care to those who need it as the pandemic continues.
Laurel thinks that the pandemic will have a permanent impact on how HCO provides support in the future. Insecure funding streams and underpaid reimbursement rates continue to be a concern for HCO; however, she also thinks that they are uniquely prepared for any eventuality.
She has a great deal of appreciation for the whole organization. “HCO has amazing staff, in the office as well as in the care services, who will continue with the mission,” she says. “There will always be the need for HCO’s services.”
Laurel currently serves as Vice President of the HCO Board of Directors and has been a board member since 2011. In her free time, Laurel likes to read, go on walks, and spend time with family — she has two grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Prior to COVID, she and her husband liked to travel and go on cruises, as well as spend time with friends.