The importance of fair wages for caregivers

Extraordinary Caregivers

A young girl with developmental disabilities lives with her family. Her ability to process information and complete tasks is similar to a 17-19-month-old child; she is a toddler in an adolescent’s body. Others make most of her decisions, and she communicates her desires through very simple means: gestures, cries and simple words or phrases. She is active and needs intensive supervision to remain safe in her environments. She doesn’t understand that a stove, the garbage or chemicals could be dangerous.

Issues about her safety arise; she must move. Overnight.

I receive a phone call asking to find caregivers and housing for her.

My first call is to our resourceful, imaginative and committed staff members, asking them to create solutions. They do what they always do: They respond with results.

Mitch and Kathy divide up the tasks required to create a safe environment: licensing from two different agencies and appropriate staffing and furniture.

John has a house with an open bedroom. He figures out how to integrate this young woman into his household of older adults and provides the education for his staff to be successful. Lisa gets out her contact list and pieces together staff members who can augment John’s staff. Direct support staff members give up time at their own homes to support the young woman, to mentor and support staff, to coordinate with a family that has had its world turned upside-down. Zelene begins working on long-term housing and staffing solutions. Tara conducts assessments and begins the paperwork.

In 24 hours, we make it possible for this young woman to be safe again.

This incredibly complex situation requires all staff members involved to have exceptional professional boundaries, to negotiate a variety of complicated and difficult ethical decisions, to communicate professionally and compassionately, and most importantly, to be committed to assisting this young woman through her fear and pain—which she is unable to articulate because she is non-verbal and processes information as a 17-19-month-old.

Our Approach

We support over 70 people. Each one is a unique individual with personal strengths and quirks. Each one has a story.

The extraordinary staff members named are a few of the over 160 staff members who provide this kind of support, every day, every night for our clients. Our services are provided under intense public and governmental scrutiny: Any error in judgment can result in licensing violations, maltreatment investigations, newspaper headlines.

As a society, we are ready to point the finger when things don’t go well. What we don’t seem to be willing to do is to ensure that these extraordinary people are paid a wage commensurate with the skills they need to exhibit every day.

Government, in conjunction with the legislature, sets our prices. We must make do within those prices to pay our staff members. Many of them work two or three jobs to make ends meet. As a society, we need to proclaim our support for living wages, equitable with those paid to other caregivers, for our most vulnerable citizens.

You can help by sharing your voice. Tell legislators to prioritize services for people with developmental disabilities when they are allocating dollars to support fair wages for caregivers. They need to hear from you.

You can also sign up to receive emails informing you about our latest advocacy efforts.

About the Author

Sandi Gerdes

Sandi Gerdes, executive director of Laura Baker Services Association, has a 30-year history of leadership in the disabilities community. A longtime advocate for choice, Sandi has developed numerous innovative service programs tailored to the unique needs of the individuals the organization serves.

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