They feed, dress, and have to clean up human poop, so perhaps it may surprise you to
learn the people who play nursemaid to the mentally impaired make an average of $9.35
an hour in this state.
That might be called a success story by folks who believe in government belt-tightening.
You see, Illinois has been closing expensive state-run institutions that care for the
developmentally disabled and mentally ill and putting those “consumers” (as they are now
called) into group homes run by private community service organizations.
State employees who did the same work would be making $17 an hour. And they would
be getting retirement benefits and pay hikes.
But this state hasn’t allocated money to reimburse the private companies to give raises to
These employees are officially known as direct support workers.
“I have been an employee for St. Coletta’s for just over 13 years now,” said Albert Myles,
of Tinley Park. “I started here in 2001 making $9 an hour, and in 2014 my current pay
rate is $9.81.
“I’ve gotten glowing evaluations on a yearly basis, but none of that ever translates to a
“It frustrates me, It’s inexcusable that we can have the responsibilities we have, I mean,
we’re caregivers, nurses, we’re brothers, we’re sisters, fathers, mothers, to the clients
we take care of.
“We have clients in one group home that range from severely mentally disabled to
several physically disabled.
“We have to change diapers, bathe and shower, clothe, feed. We have to do everything
for these consumers because they can’t do anything for themselves. Yet, we are not
compensated for that work.”
I know the government belt-tighteners are thinking: “You don’t like the pay, get a better
And that’s just what a lot of these caregivers do each year.
The annual turnover rate, according to a national study, is about 50 percent a year in
Did I mention that some of these workers are physically attacked by their clients?
I know, that’s the job, and they’re well paid for it, even if their pay qualifies them for
I ran into Myles and many of his co-workers at a demonstration for higher wages
outside St. Coletta’s in Tinley Park this week.
They were focusing their anger at St. Coletta’s, which operates 30 group homes in
15 south suburban communities, because they’re involved in labor negotiations with
Andy Collins, the executive director of St. Coletta’s thinks his employees deserve a
“The fact is, we’ve suffered six-digit losses in our operating budget for several years
because the state reimbursement rate hasn’t kept pace with the costs,” Collins said.
“About 83 percent of our revenue comes from the state.”
St. Coletta’s isn’t unique, which is why agencies that run group homes, along with
AFSCME (the giant labor union), the Illinois Association of Rehabilitation Facilities
and others have joined forces to lobby the state Legislature.
The coalition, titled The Care Campaign, is asking the state to allocate $35 million
next year for a $1 pay hike for direct support staff.
If that’s all we care, it ain’t a whole lot.
The dream goal is a $1-an-hour increase for employees for three straight years.
Last week, many of the leaders of nonprofit met with Gov. Pat Quinn’s staff and were
told that if the Legislature makes the 5 percent income tax rate permanent, the
governor will designate $35 million for the pay raises.
There’s the government teaming up with bleeding hearts to gouge the taxpayers once
I mean, people suffering from cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and other mental
disabilities aren’t likely to care if the people feeding them make $9 an hour or $10 an
hour, are they?
As for the rest of us, it’s don’t ask, don’t tell.
We don’t ask what’s going on in the group homes and no one bothers to tell us.
Art Dykstra, who runs Trinity Services in New Lenox, serving 600 people in 120
residential sites, is one of the leaders of The Care Campaign.
I tried to explain to him that Illinois residents don’t want to hear about higher taxes.
They tell me they’re tired of the political corruption and wasteful government spending
and want their elected leaders to slash the budget and cut taxes.
Dykstra said he believes people understand the need to care compassionately for the
most vulnerable among us and everyone can put themselves in the place of families
who can no longer care for physically or mentally disabled relatives at home.
If that were true, Illinois likely would rank higher than 41st in the nation in its financial
support for disability services.
I asked Dykstra what would happen to community service budgets if the Legislature
doesn’t make the 5 percent income tax rate permanent.
“The consequences would be devastating,” he said. “We would all have to cut our
budgets. There certainly would be no pay raises for staff.”
I’m sure he’s exaggerating. If the state made cuts, the disabled people could probably
go out and sell flowers and pencils on street corners and maybe share the money with
the people who feed them.
Candidates like Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner never seem to address these issues
head on, but the implication is that by cutting taxes and immediately attracting new
businesses that bring in billions in new revenue, all such problems would be solved
However, it did occur to me that Rauner could provide money for that $1 caregiver pay
raise out of what he’s likely to spend on his campaign for governor.
Rauner certainly can’t be blamed when Democrats act like Republicans by holding the
line on government spending, which results in a $9.35 an hour wage for caregivers.
This is something we should all be proud of in this state. I mean, we’re treating people
like human excrement, but never have to get our hands full of poop.
Tony Paulauski Executive Director
The Arc of Illinois
20901 S. LaGrange Rd. Suite 209
Frankfort, IL 60423