Kyle Rick, CEO, The Arc of the Quad Cities Area hit a home run with this Editorial in the Rock Island Argus! Nice job!

You can do the same thing using our materials on meeting with editorial boards in the Value the Work Resource Kit.


Editorial: Why direct care worker crisis must be a priority

The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus

Jun 9, 2016

The average wage for what Illinois calls direct support professionals is $9.35 an hour.
That works out to a poverty-level annual salary for a family of three, and it means nearly half receive public benefits.

But these men and women — many of whom are single parents — are much more than chief cooks and bottle-washers. Indeed, if their job descriptions were to list all that they do to help more than 27,000 Illinoisans with disabilities to lead productive lives in their communities, it would be voluminous.

Here is just a tiny sample of what those who care for some of our most vulnerable do each day:

— Assist with toileting, bathing, grooming, dressing, eating.
— Prepare specialized meals and diets and oversee housekeeping.
— Pass medications, monitor medical conditions.
— Teach skills such as balancing a checkbook, cooking and diet, reading, anger management and how to act in social situations.
— Drive people to activities, medical appointments, church, etc.
— Help formulate goals — large and small — and work to help reach them.
— Act as confidants, counselors and mentors.

Then there are the extensive background checks they must undergo and the 120 hours of training that are required to get the job. That hardly seems to be entry-level work, the argument often used to justify the low pay that results from the state’s low Medicaid reimbursement rate.

Take Rob Tolmie. After 17 years at Arc of the Quad Cities, he’s no newbie, but he makes $10.35 an hour. Remarkably, those low wages haven’t driven him out of the field. But the flight of others has significantly impacted his life and the life of his clients.

He told members of our editorial board last week that he has worked at least 60 hours — and sometimes 75 hours — every week this year at the Arc group home. That’s because the Arc has 25 vacancies among the 125 direct care professional positions it needs to assist the 300 people with disabilities it serves.

“We are at a crisis, and I don’t know how much longer we can provide for people’s safety, given the current situation,” said outgoing longtime director Kyle Rick. And make no mistake, the job can be a dangerous one, as caregivers help clients cope with emotional and behavioral issues. Staffing issues increase the danger for workers, who already have a high rate of worker compensation claims.

To help address the crisis, the Arc joined a coalition pushing to raise the wage for Illinois direct support professionals. They successfully convinced Illinois lawmakers last week to raise the minimum Medicaid reimbursement rate for entry level workers to $15 an hour, half of which would be reimbursed by Medicare.

Now they are urging Gov. Bruce Rauner to sign the measure into law.

They face an uphill battle, according to an email statement to reporter Eric Timmons last Friday from a Rauner spokesman. She said the bill is “simply unaffordable and will ultimately lead to cuts and eliminations of other important state programs.”

There is no question that the timing is terrible, as Illinois readies to cope with its second year without a spending plan, while it continues to spend more than it takes in and our deadbeat state’s unpaid bills mount.

We appreciate the state’s dilemma. But the crisis is not one that can be ignored.

State leaders simply must begin to address the problem. Ms. Rick reluctantly suggests a potential solution: If the governor thinks $15 is too much, figure out what the state can afford and use his amendatory veto pen to increase the hourly wage by some other amount so that Illinois can at least begin working toward fairer compensation for these critical care providers.

It’s simple really: Either we, as a state, care about our most vulnerable citizens, or we don’t. Either we believe our goal must remain to help those with intellectual and development disabilities live productive lives in our community, or we don’t.

If we do, then it’s time to begin to do something about a patently and woefully inadequate  Medicaid reimbursement system which threatens great programs around the state, including at the Arc of the Quad Cities.

tony signature
Tony Paulauski
Executive Director
The Arc of Illinois
20901 S. LaGrange Rd. Suite 209
Frankfort, IL 60423
815-464-1832 (OFFICE)
815-464-1832 (CELL)