Laumer's way at AAH: One member at a time

Saturday, September 30, 2006

As AAHomecare's new membership committee chair, Carol Laumer knows she faces a stiff challenge. Defections over philosophical differences, demands for representation equality, concerns over dues rates and competition from other organizations all play a role in the association's flat membership level.
Laumer, a devoted association advocate for 20 years, acknowledges that even her disarming rural Midwestern persona won't be able to sweeten every bitter attitude, and despite the most vigorous effort, membership isn't likely to swell overnight. But instead of lamenting about the tremendous scope of the job at hand, she prefers a reasoned, pragmatic approach: One member at a time.
"This is a big job and I know it," Laumer, executive director of Willmar, Minn.-based Rice Home Medical, said flatly. "Can I make a difference? I can, but I don't expect sweeping change immediately. It's not likely that 500 new members are going to join up over the next year."
Her goal is much more modest; if she can recruit one new member per month, every month during her tenure, she will consider herself successful. If each of the 14 membership committee members set the same goal, it could add up to something significant.
But first, Laumer is busy garnering support from the AAHomecare staff. Cooperation among all team members is paramount, she said, because "communication is the key to cooperation."
Laumer, an LPN by training, has been with the same company since 1984, though it has gone through ownership changes over the years.
As executive director at Rice, she oversees all administrative duties and answers to the company's board of directors. She got involved with the old Minnesota state association (MAHMES) in 1986 and has served in various capacities, including president. The organization, now known as MAMES, comprises six other states along with Minnesota: North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri.
"I became interested in the state association because I felt that it was important for everyone to work together for the good of the industry," she said. "You can't do anything by yourself."
And that's the message she has for prospective members, as well as defectors.
"AAHomecare is our voice in Washington and that voice needs to reflect its membership," Laumer said. "You can't complain if you don't participate. And if you have a complaint, offer a solution."
As for the criticisms, the association is listening and responding, Laumer said. This summer, the state leadership council surveyed 152 individuals--about half of which were AAHomecare members--and their comments are being taken very seriously.
"They've told us they want strong leadership, lower dues and more representation," Laumer said. "The strongest reasons for not belonging are the dues, which they feel are too high; and representation, which they feel favors the largest members. I can understand their concerns about wanting equal attention, but on the other side, the large companies are pouring in the most money and want their issues heard."
VGM and The MED Group have become unwitting competitors to AAHomecare in recent years as they've expanded and diversified into government relations activities. Laumer says she has no problem with those groups establishing their own agendas on that front, but maintains that they are working in tandem with AAHomecare, not replacing it.
"I've spoken with (VGM CEO) Van Miller himself about it and he agrees," she said. "They are a logical extension."
AAHomecare exists for its members and is diligently trying to act in the interest of the majority, Laumer said. In her role as membership chair, Laumer said, one of her biggest priorities is to establish personal contact with as many members as possible. She will be dispatching her membership committee as missionaries for that cause.
"We have to begin with small steps," she said. "Instead of looking at the entire membership roster, I'll be looking at each name one at a time. I want to talk to those who haven't rejoined to find out why, and I want to thank each member who has stayed with us."