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The changes he's seen: Ron Lockwood looks back on social work career

Ron Lockwood

In a sense, Ron Lockwood, along with his counterparts in other counties, worked himself out of a job.

Lockwood's career stretched across a timeline of change in the way Wisconsin and its counties provide services to people with disabilities and their families.

Now as part of a statewide effort, St. Croix, Pierce and Dunn counties are transferring the responsibility for long-term support to private agencies.

The state promises the new system will eventually eliminate waiting lists for services for adults with chronic illnesses or disabling conditions. But the change has also eliminated some county jobs.

In Lockwood's case, his position is being cut just a month short of his 65th birthday.

"The timing was about right," said Lockwood, River Falls, who jokes about "participating in his own demise."

For the last decade, Lockwood has administered St. Croix's annual $18 million long-term care budget and supervised the unit's 55 employees.

He negotiated and monitored annual contract purchases worth $13 million and managed the Home and Community-based Medical Assistance waiver programs for over 300 participants.

Changing course

Although much of his career has been spent in public administration, that wasn't the route Lockwood first planned.

He spent his high school years in seminary preparing to be a priest before he realized that wasn't his calling. Still uncertain of his future, he earned his undergraduate degree from Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, and enlisted in the U.S. Army.

After three years in the Army during the Vietnam era, he was discharged.

A fellow officer had talked of his plans to study social work, and Lockwood decided the role of social worker would be "a good mix of theory and practice."

He enrolled and earned his Master of Social Work degree at UW-Madison.

From 1972 to 1973, Lockwood worked as a budget analyst for the Wisconsin Department of Health and Social Services. From 1973-74 he worked as planning analyst for the Northeast Wisconsin Health Planning Council in Green Bay. From 1974 to 1978, Lockwood was finance manager for the Unified Services Board in Ashland. From 1978 to 1991, he was director of that board, which served the counties of Ashland, Iron and Price.

In the early 1970s, because of the availability of Medicaid funding, many counties operated mental hospitals that weren't licensed, said Lockwood.

"The old county mental hospitals made money for the counties that had them," he said, explaining there were incentives to build big hospitals and sell services to other counties.

"That contributed to over-bedding of nursing homes in the state," said Lockwood.

The state changed course and began offering a waiver program to relocate people from the larger institutions back to their home communities.

"The whole philosophy about caring for persons (with disabilities) was changing during that period," said Lockwood as states were encouraged to rely more on community living.

Families who had sent a developmentally disabled son or daughter to a large facility after being told they couldn't take proper care of the child were now told the disabled person was coming home.

"It was often difficult for family members to accept," said Lockwood. Most of those who returned to their home community moved into small residential care facilities. New private agencies were developed to run those facilities.

"A lot of my work had to do with negotiating contracts with these private vendors," said Lockwood of his role in Ashland.

Move to St. Croix

In 1991 he took the job of manager of human resource development at the St. Croix Department of Human Services. In that role Lockwood designed and initiated a home health personal care program for the frail elderly and persons with physical or developmental disabilities.

"I dramatically expanded the number of elderly and younger physically disabled persons served annually by the MA waiver programs from 13 to 143 during my tenure as program administrator," said Lockwood. He reorganized home-care services by contracting with private vendors, resulting in more people being served and a wider range of services.

Since 1998 Lockwood has worked as the county's long-term support coordinator. For the last few years both he and Human Services Director Fred Johnson have been involved in planning the county's move to the next phase of long-term care reform.

"The big question was would the counties do it as a multi-county effort or would we encourage a private non-profit?" said Lockwood.

While Wisconsin funneled large amounts of Medicaid money into pilot programs in other counties, counties such as St. Croix were forced to come up with more and more dollars to provide services.

Now as St. Croix moves to managed care, the cost to the county is being cut. Community Health Partnership, a private non-profit, contracts with Medicaid and Medicare to provide health and long-term support services to frail elderly and adults with chronic physical or developmental disabilities.

A new county office, the Aging and Disability Resource Center, is the gatekeeper to services, providing evaluations and information about long-term care options to potential clients and their families.

Although he is retiring from the county job, Lockwood said he's not ready to retire and is looking for work in the private sector.

Lockwood and his wife, Donna Lanni, have a long-range plan -- to move back to Ashland. Lanni and Lockwood have two adult children, Luciana Lanni and Brooks Lockwood.