N.D. man finds job with help of the Division of Vocational RehabilitationDustin Morseth’s life changed forever on July 30, 2002. He was headed home on his motorcycle north on Washington Street in Grand Forks, when an oncoming Chevy Tahoe SUV turned left in front of him. He slammed into the vehicle’s passenger side. He was not wearing a helmet.
By: Pamela Knudson, Grand Forks Herald
Dustin Morseth’s life changed forever on July 30, 2002.
He was headed home on his motorcycle north on Washington Street in Grand Forks, when an oncoming Chevy Tahoe SUV turned left in front of him. He slammed into the vehicle’s passenger side.
He was not wearing a helmet.
Morseth suffered multiple injuries, including broken facial bones, collarbone and ankle, damage to internal organs and a brain injury. After hospitalization, he endured months of rehabilitation therapy.
The accident left him permanently disabled.
In the years that followed, he worked various jobs — hotel maintenance and housekeeping, sheet metal work, home construction and postal service.
In 2010, through North Dakota’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation he found his “dream job” at Lunseth Plumbing and Heating in Grand Forks, he said.
“No job has ever compared to this.”
Morseth, 35, lives on a farm near Emerado, N.D., with his wife Karol and 1-year-old daughter, Esther. He and Karol are expecting their second child in August.
He is one of thousands in this area who have overcome difficult situations — because of disabilities or other circumstances — and found employment with the help of the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, part of the state’s human services department.
The division’s regional office, headquartered in Grand Forks, serves Nelson, Walsh, Pembina and Grand Forks counties.
Its mission is “to provide services to eligible clients to find and keep employment, to be independent and do well,” said Jan Haas, regional administrator, Grand Forks.
Staff members, including seven counselors and a vision rehabilitation specialist, constantly watch for job opportunities that may interest their clients, she said. Several serve on committees or organizations through which information is shared on new and in-coming employers and job market trends.
“We don’t market people on their disability,” Haas said. “We market them on skills and ability.”
On average, staff members are working with 600 people at any given time, she said. “At one time, it was up to 900.”
“Last year, we placed 98,” she said. That figure “is a little down from what we usually do, but I look at quality” of the employment match which predicts the likelihood that clients will stay on the job.
Overall, the division’s retention rate is 89 percent, she said. Retention is based on the percentage of clients who are still employed in the job six months after placement. The goal set by the state is 80 percent.
To qualify for services, the client must have a physical or psychological impairment “that interferes with their ability to work…,” Haas said, and they must want to be employed.
Successful placement is the end result of the initial evaluation of the needs of clients who have been referred by medical professionals or employers, she said. People may also seek services without referral.
Extensive background is gathered on the client’s work history, education, medical and psychological history, and family support.
If needed, services also include referring clients to specialists, such as neuropsychologists and clinical psychologists, for additional evaluation.
“Clients may have back pain, but there’s no documentation to support that,” she said. “They’ve taken care of others but haven’t, themselves, been to a doctor in years.”
Or they may have a learning disability which may require an education evaluation.
“We get evaluations to support decisions that we make,” she said.
Clients as young as 16 are referred by school systems.
“We help them transition from high school to the world of work,” she said. “Generally, that works well.”
Voc Rehab staff helps clients obtain certain types of training or education in order to secure a job, and over the years she has seen “some improvement” in employers’ openness to hiring clients through the program.
The most challenging cases involve clients who have a “choppy” work history or none at all. Also difficult to place are people who have been incarcerated for committing felonies.
“Some employers are willing to take a risk,” she said. In recent years, Haas has seen a trend toward more clients who have a combination of disabilities.
“It used to be we’d see more orthopedic or physical issues.”
Today her staff is working with more clients who have learning disabilities. They also see an increasing number who have problems with alcohol and drugs in addition to mental illness.
Through Vocational Rehab, Morseth has found a good match with Lunseth.
“It’s a wonderful group of people,” he said. “I’m so happy.”
“He’s quite a guy, everybody likes him,” said Bob Leshuk. “He’s a good worker, with all his disabilities.”
Morseth works about 25 hours a week, attending to duties inside and outside the business that occupies seven acres on the north end of Grand Forks. He cleans up the yard, mowing the lawn and clearing weeds. He sweeps floors and keeps the employee break room clean and tidy. He counts and sorts parts — the company has “hundreds of thousands of them,” he said.
The accident left him with double vision, he said, but “I’ve accommodated for that.”
In 2011, because of lingering problems with his right ankle, he had surgery to fuse the ankle bones; it was not successful. In February, he underwent another surgery which, he said, promises better results.
For the first month or two after each surgery, while his ankle healed, he used a wheelchair, he said.
“I was about as crippled as they come.”
He works with a physical therapist twice a week to increase flexibility in his ankle.
The company “has supported us the whole time,” he said, “Lunseth is standing by me.”
Learning the plumbing trade
Morseth is learning the plumbing trade at his own pace, he said. He needs 8,000 hours of experience to be eligible to take the test for plumbing certification.
“It’ll take about five years ‘til I take the test,” he said.
On what promoted Morseth’s hiring, Phil Kraemer, vice president for operations, said, “We needed somebody to fill the position, and he was the guy.
“He had an aptitude and an attitude that would work well with us so we decided to give him a try.”
Kraemer said people who’ve been through Vocational Rehab “probably got more experience in the ‘school of hard knocks’ and have had their issues resolved. (They) have a pretty good work ethic and a desire to succeed and do well.
“People who’ve had to retrain, and have to do something else, are pretty doggone good. They have an idea of where they want to go, what they want to do, and they hit the ground running and learn on the job.”
Morseth “is a very good employee,” he said, citing his attitude and punctuality. “He’s a joy to have around. He puts a smile on everybody’s face.”
So far, the residual damage to Morseth’s ankle has limited what he can do at Lunseth’s.
“It results in pain that prevents him from putting in a full day,” Kraemer said. “It’s his ankle that’s slowing him down, much more so than the brain injury.”
Morseth looks forward to the day his ankle is healed and he can accompany co-workers in the field.
“Some days are harder than others…. I work through my disabilities and try to make a difference,” he said.
What does working at Lunseth mean to him?
“My life,” he said quietly. “I love working here.”
Knudson covers Health and Family for the Herald and can be reached at (701) 780-1107, (800) 477-6572, ext.1107 or email@example.com.