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Another Voice

Direct care workers are underpaid, underappreciated

By Diane O’Brien

“I want to go home now. I need to get ready for work,” Liz says.

Our disabled daughter lives in a group home with five other women. Work for her is attending a day program. From here she goes into the community to volunteer at nonprofits. Liz’s world is different but she is happy and thrives in her settings.

There are 22 nonprofit agencies in Western New York that provide housing opportunities for the disabled. Disabilities include all ranges of developmental delays and physical limitations. Direct care providers are the people who meet an individual’s needs.

Developmental delays mean a resident may function mentally from the level of a toddler to being able to move about their environment with minimum guidance. Direct care providers may need to spoon-feed residents and move them from wheelchairs to their beds. At the higher level of functioning, residents may be able to care for their own individual needs with support.

Liz has an infectious laugh and a keen awareness of the people around her and their acceptance of her. She knows who will respond to her conversation. Liz loves the Sabres, wears their jersey and enjoys talking about the most recent game. Her reading is at a very basic level yet she watches the nightly news and likes to discuss current events.

Liz is aware of the problems facing group homes like hers. “Mom, Rita had to work two shifts today because Nancy is out with her baby and Jackie is sick. There was no one else to work.”

There is a crisis facing nonprofit human service agencies. Would you like to work for McDonald’s or a group home? The pay is the same, the level of responsibility light years apart. Direct service providers undergo intensive training in CPR certification, medication dispensing, dealing with emotional problems, lifting and transporting clients and more.

Nonprofit agencies across the state provide comprehensive and individualized services and programs for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, servicing more than 140,000 New York residents. However, a decade of underfunding threatens the safety of the disabled as well as the direct care providers who are pushed to their physical limits.

The state has not increased funding for nonprofits in nearly 10 years. The human services workforce of 800,000 feels this underfunding. The average service worker lives at or below the poverty line. This in spite of the total responsibility they have for clients.

We are urging legislators to vote on the 3-for-5 initiative. This would give employees of nonprofit service agencies a 3% pay increase annually for the next five years. These vital workers need to be compensated for their crucial roles. A lifeline is needed for them also.

Diane O’Brien, of Williamsville, is the mother of a disabled daughter.

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