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Another Voice: Direct care professionals must be paid a living wage

Another Voice: Direct care professionals must be paid a living wage

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To equate the pay scale of a fast food worker with that of a person who provides direct care to individuals with developmental disabilities is a very sad and disappointing reflection on our society.

While every single job in our economy should carry dignity and pride, there are differences in the pay, based on a number of factors. These include: education and training, challenge/complexity of the work, demands, risks, physical/emotional toll and value-added to those served.

The moment a direct care worker teaches an individual to button his shirt is more impactful than a customer receiving a hamburger. Both jobs are needed, important and should carry a sense of pride, but there are differences in the impacts to the customers and in how long they last.

There are also big differences in the training, risks, demands and work environments. These are the factors that should differentiate and determine pay.

Direct care professionals (DCPs) staff adult day habilitation programs and residences, where they provide direct essential care like bathing, dressing, grooming, eating, medication, transport, activities and community outings. Individuals form bonds with their DCPs, and they have a major influence on their mental and physical well-being.

When you simply pay DCPs the same as fast food workers – minimum wage – you undervalue, deflate and minimize the value of their work and completely ignore the differences cited above. You also create a very unfair competition in the labor market.

The relative ease of being a fast food worker when compared to what a DCP does, and the risks and challenges they face, creates a tremendous disadvantage in recruiting and retaining DCPs.

Undervaluing and underpaying DCPs creates a trail of damage and fallout, including:

• High staff turnover rates – 60% per year;

• Excessive use of overtime;

• Demoralization and demotivation;

• Risk and danger to individuals under care due to constant turnover, vacancies and fatigued staff.

A medical technician, whose work is vitally needed and important in our health care system, may spend her day taking vitals, administrative or billing and will be paid $20 per hour. This is a valuable, respected job in our society.

A direct care worker may spend his day bathing, dressing, grooming, feeding, medicating, transporting, counseling, directing, consoling, teaching, sharing, caring, laughing, crying and smiling with a person in their care.

DCPs are paid in the range of $13-$15 per hour. We must get their hourly pay to $20.

Russell Snaith is Founder of the New York Alliance for Developmental Disabilities.

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