Imagine applying for a job that required the following: unwavering patience with challenging behaviors, the ability to connect with those who may not be able to communicate, physical strength to lift another human being from his wheelchair to the car, diligent attention to a schedule complete with doctor’s appointments that may take you from one end of the county to another in the course of a morning, meticulous record-keeping as medications are administered, a pool of emotional energy always available to those around you day or night, total focus to protect those you serve from harm’s way, and a heart so big you will vow to care for the most vulnerable population as if they are your own family.
Now – imagine landing that job, but learning that your paycheck will essentially put you below the poverty line.
This is what our direct support professionals face; in fact, we recently discussed this issue extensively at the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Public Forum. The wages of our direct support professionals have been subpar for too long, and it is time that we compensate them more appropriately for the extraordinary role they play in society. However, fair pay cannot be achieved without fiscal support from the state. Agencies already struggle to bridge the gap between financial needs and resources, and it is time that we all speak out to our legislators about the critical need for funding increased pay for direct support professionals. They are the lifeblood of agencies like ours, and for the people they serve, their presence means health, happiness, safety and well-being.
Because of the pay levels for direct care workers being so low, not only do these incredible people face the challenges that come with financial hardship in their own lives, but our society risks the possibility of agencies being forced to shut down because it is so difficult to keep direct support professionals on staff. Moreover, those receiving services, along with their families, suffer from the anguish and depression that comes with staff frequently being forced to leave for better-paying jobs. Staff turnover is not only expensive from a training standpoint, but there is a severe emotional cost to those receiving services when they are left in the care of total strangers every time someone new fills a position held by someone who had become an extension of his or her family.
We all need to get behind this movement; I ask for your help. Here at Anderson Center for Autism, we have seen incidence rates rise substantially over the past 20 years, and as people live longer lives, the need for care will continue to grow exponentially. It is time to deliver a message to our lawmakers: if this were your family member, wouldn’t you want him or her in the care of a staff person who is getting the level of respect worthy of their patience, compassion, dedication, work ethic and heart? And wouldn’t you want your family member to be in the care of an agency that will be around for decades to come because it has the public funding it needs to remain financially strong?
Urge your elected officials to get behind the bFair2DirectCare campaign — and know that in doing so, you will be making a difference in the lives of those with developmental disabilities, those devoted to caring for people with disabilities and those who love the people receiving that care.
For more information on Anderson Center for Autism, visit andersoncenterforautism.org
Patrick Paul is the CEO/Executive Director of Anderson Center for Autism, located in Staatsburg, whose organizational mission is to “optimize the quality of life for people with autism.”