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Best Care has grown from a startup with no employees to 1,400 workers and 1,000 clients in the past 15 years.

Now, the North St. Paul home health agency has a chance to grow more as one of the first two companies owned by people of color approved for the Minnesota Department of Human Services' to provide financial management services for two self-directed care programs. The other was Minnesota Quality Care.

CEO Andre Best, who used to run a production line at Ford's former St. Paul factory, started the company with his father. He earned a law degree while at Ford, thinking it was a "do-all" degree that he thought would one day help him to run a production plant or his own company.

Best Care grew to 330 employees in its first seven years, and business has incrementally increased since then. Best created a separate company, Best Care FMS, to deliver the state contract after going through the approval and certification process and just recently ran its first payroll for the new company.

Implementing a flat organizational structure he's also kept expenses low and has gradually expanded offerings in the home health care space. The main service is traditional home care.

"We help people live independently at home and stay at home as long as they can," Best said.

Oftentimes that means helping friends and family members who are serving as unpaid care givers get access to the government-funded personal care assistance programs in Minnesota that allow them to be paid, usually minimum or close to minimum wage.

Best Care also can help people with programs through Medicaid and Minnesota's medical assistance programs that help higher functioning people who still need assistance with grants that let the clients choose the aid programs they want to use.

"This is a different kind of program," Best said. "In my opinion, it's better than a PCA program, because it's more comprehensive. It can give you access to more kinds of services."

Best Care FMS will help people set up the paperwork for the programs and choose providers that will keep them in compliance. The programs might apply to a smaller subset of clients, but Best Care became one of the few PCA companies to offer the services.

There are about 700 companies in Minnesota that provide PCA services but only 12 of them were contracted to provide FMS services. Best had been hoping to add these services for years, but had to wait until the state solicited requests for proposals for the contracts, which only happens occasionally.

To help with the program Best hired two people who have deep experience working with FMS services needed for the self-directed programs, including Raina Marti, the company's FMS Coordinator.

"It's very, very rewarding work," Marti said. "And I just feel fortunate to be able to do it."

It will be small part of Best Care's overall revenue but a meaningful addition for clients.

"People want to have the opportunity to do business with people in their community, and maybe that look like them as well," Best said. "And the majority of the people that are in this program, people on the program and the employees themselves, are from communities of color."

The state last issued FMS contracts in 2016 and selected 12 agencies, none of which were owned by people of color, said Natasha Merz, the director of disability services division for the Minnesota Department of Human Services. The agency heard concerns from the community about diversity and opened the process last year for Best Care and Minnesota Quality Care, which had already done the work to become qualified providers.

"It's important to people that use services, that they're able to work with providers that they trust from their community and the department," Merz said. "In my division we have work to do to continuously improve and do better on that."