Genesis out of recycling

Broke nonprofit finds way to continue most services

By ANDREW MCGINN

a.mcginn@beeherald.com

Rocked by a financial meltdown, the name Genesis Development will cease to exist after Oct. 27, as most of its services become the responsibility of a similar, Maquoketa-based organization.

However, its most visible service in Greene County — the processing of recyclables — won’t survive the transition.

“We’ve got a problem,” Dave Morlan, public works director for the city of Jefferson, told The Jefferson Herald on Monday.

Morlan was referencing an email the city received on Friday from Genesis about the end of its recycling business effective Oct. 31.

All curbside recycling in the county — with the exception of Scranton — is collected by the city of Jefferson and taken to Genesis for processing.

Genesis also wants the city of Jefferson to remove recycling drop boxes from its property by Oct. 31, according to Morlan.

The decision leaves most of Greene County looking for a new place to take its recyclables — one that doesn’t require trucks to drive too far away, upping expenses to the program.

Ideally, Genesis would find someone to take over the recycling business, Genesis board president Tim Heisterkamp said.

“You can’t operate in the red,” Heisterkamp said. “The recycling has been costing Genesis money for a while.”

As a result, Genesis’ custom-box business in Jefferson will end as well.

Morlan stressed that, in the meantime, nothing will change for residents who recycle curbside.

“We will not discontinue curbside service,” he said. “I will landfill it if I have to. It defeats the purpose, but we will pick it up.”

Jefferson-based Genesis has been supporting and empowering people with disabilities for nearly five decades, but recently ran up against “unprecedented operational challenges for our organization,” as the board termed it late last month.

The organization has lost more than $2 million the past two years.

Publicly, the board has put the blame on an “ever-changing, increasingly difficult health care environment,” but inside sources say it’s more complex than that.

Late Friday, the organization announced it had struck an agreement with Maquoketa-based Imagine the Possibilities “under which Imagine will assume the performance of many of Genesis’ services for individuals with developmental disabilities,” according to a news release.

Genesis this past Saturday officially handed off its mental health and crisis services to Atlantic-based Zion Recovery Services.

“We are thrilled to have been able to come together with Imagine as quickly as we did,” Heisterkamp, of Jefferson, said Friday in a statement. “Our goal is to have as little disruption as possible in the services we provide to our clients and employees, by joining Imagine, we will be able to achieve that goal.”

Imagine the Possibilities was created in 2016 and has locations in Maquoketa, DeWitt, Dubuque, Guttenberg and Oskaloosa, all in the eastern half of Iowa, and Corning, in southern Iowa.

Wendy Malone, president of Imagine, had been serving as interim Genesis CEO following the July 31 retirement of Terry Johnson, who spent 40 years at the helm of the Greene County Sheltered Workshop and Genesis.

Malone was later moved into an advisory role to the Genesis board.

“Providing services to Genesis members was a natural fit because our missions aligned so well,” Imagine CEO Todd Seifert said in a statement. “We are excited to welcome Genesis members and their families into our family.”

Most of the nearly 500 people employed by Genesis — spread across a huge swath of Iowa, from Storm Lake in the north and Clarinda in the south to Belle Plaine in the east — are expected to have the opportunity to transfer their employment to Imagine with no gaps in benefits.

“Staff will be notified if they’re not being brought over,” Genesis spokesman Bill Gebhart, a development associate in the organization, told the Herald this week.

The Genesis board will dissolve after the organization’s assets are dealt with, Gebhart said.

Imagine has offered two positions on its board to Genesis, Heisterkamp said, but it wasn’t known if anybody would accept.

Custom Boxes Online, a commercial business operated in Jefferson by Genesis, is preparing to go under as well.

Employees have manufactured custom-made corrugated boxes in Jefferson since 1985.

Employees are trying to finish existing contracts, Gebhart said.

Its closure has less to do with the parent organization’s financial woes and more to do with the way people with disabilities are served, according to Gebhart.

It has been considered best practice for more than 30 years to place people with disabilities in jobs instead of employing them.

“There are just getting to be fewer and fewer people to work  in these commercial endeavors,” he said. “They all get jobs in the community, which is our goal.”

Genesis several years ago closed a can redemption facility in Storm Lake for the same reason.

The news release provided by Genesis stated, “If a service is not provided by Imagine, they will work with clients to find alternative services to fill the gap.”

Genesis was established in Jefferson in 1973 as the Greene County Sheltered Workshop.

Initially employing fewer than 15 people with disabilities locally, the organization grew to become Genesis Development, which served 4,780 clients and operated on a budget of $18.1 million in fiscal-year 2018.

So daunting is the current financial crisis that Genesis recently placed a freeze on employee sick time, personal days and vacation, according to a board email to staff obtained by the Herald. If an employee should resign, the organization is unable to make payment for their accrued vacation, the email stated.

The organization showed an operating loss of more than $1.3 million in fiscal-year 2018, according to its annual report, but reported a profit of $982,100 the year before.

Genesis will post another loss of $1 million in fiscal-year 2019, Heisterkamp said.

Health care providers in Iowa continue to struggle with a privatized Medicaid system put in place, and kept there, by  back-to-back Republican governors.

Managed care organizations (MCOs) have come and gone, and reimbursement of services has been slow or even nonexistent.

Even still, as late as this year, Genesis was still growing its territory.

Earlier this year, Genesis announced it was expanding southward following a merger with Pursuit of Independence, which serves people with disabilities in the communities of Lenox, Bedford, Clarinda and Creston.

But Genesis employees have said the money crunch isn’t fully the fault of Iowa’s two MCOs.

Gebhart confirmed that there were “multiple issues that led us to this point.”

“The MCOs are just one of them,” he said, “but they’re not the only things that led us here.”

In an email to staff on Sept. 18, Carrie Wilde, longtime director of services for the Central Region of Genesis, predicted the organization’s present course.

“We probably will have a different name,” Wilde wrote, “but we will still be able to serve the people we care for and maintain our jobs. It doesn’t come out as good in an email as it does in person, but I strongly believe if we stay strong we’ll come out the other side without too many bumps and bruises.”

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