DCW Helps Fight Proposed Cuts to Critical Disability and Aging Services in Minnesota

This is a repost of an article I submitted to the Direct Care Alliance, May, 2009.

Bridget Siljander

“Bridget Siljander calls them the ‘invisible workforce.’ Without them, though, the fallout will be starkly clear,” begins a story that ran last week in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune,  one of the biggest papers in my state.

The advocacy work that led to my being quoted was fueled by my participation in the Voices InstituteNational Leadership Program, so it seemed appropriate that I was en route to New York City to meet with the rest of the program’s training team when I received a call from the Star Tribune’s Gail Rosenblum. She was writing a story about the personal care attendance program, and when she told two of Minnesota’s strongest advocates for people with disabilities – Anne Henry of the Minnesota Disability Law Center and Anni Simons of The Arc of Minnesota — that she wanted to talk to a personal care attendant, they sent her to me.

I was more than happy to share the positive side of personal care work, a profession that has been denigrated in recent months in my state of Minnesota. I told Gail that the contribution of personal care attendants to society is tremendous, and she clearly understood what I and the others she had talked to were saying. Her article provided a balance to very negative press for personal care attendants that has run rampant this year.

The storm that has personal care attendants in its eye in my state started this January, when the Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) released a report on an evaluation of Personal Care Assistance Services. What emerged from that study was not good news for the program and has shaped decision-making in the Minnesota legislature ever since.

According to the OLA report, “Personal care services remain unacceptably vulnerable to fraud and abuse.” The report also notes that total annual spending for Minnesota’s PCA services exceeds $400 million, with the implication that much of this spending is wasted on fraud. The public reaction to this information has been full of rage, even cruelty. This has prompted the governor and legislators to try to slash funding to the PCA program, in a misguided attempt to reform what is actually a low-cost program that is responsive to consumer needs.

The people who need personal care services depend on them to live independently in communities of their choice, manage their health, reduce safety risks, and avoid higher-cost services and settings. The program is designed to fit a great variety of needs while providing a higher quality of life than would be had elsewhere.

Nobody is more offended by the fraud that diverts some of the much-needed funding for PCA services than personal care attendants, the people who use their services, and their advocates and family members. That’s why we were all so glad to read Gail Rosenblum’s article, which was infused a much-needed dose of respect and acknowledgement of the importance of PCA services into the discussions around personal care assistance.

I have spent a great deal of time at the Minnesota Legislature during this session in efforts to promote the value of personal care assistance services. I have met an impressive group of people there — passionate advocates who come from a multitude of backgrounds but share a common purpose.

Several of these powerhouses are my fellow board members of the Direct Support Professional Association of Minnesota. Lance Hegland is a consumer of personal care assistance services because he experiences a form of muscular dystrophy. He is also the founder of PRECISA, Inc., which provides organizational consulting, and a regular contributor to Minnesota’s disability newspaper, Access Press. Lance manages his team of workers with respect and appreciation and advocates for workers with the same high regard. A tireless and impressive advocate, he led the first direct care worker celebration in 2008 in commemoration of National Direct Support Professional Recognition Week, which was designated by a Senate Resolution. He is active in many public policy activites on behalf of workers and is one of the most dynamic members of the Direct Support Professional Association of Minnesota.

Brigette Menger-Anderson, a former career direct care worker, is a manager for a consumer-directed PCA program with the Metropolitan Center for Independent Living and deeply committed to the development and advancement of the workforce. Her program employs 450 personal care attendants and provides supports to 135 consumers. She works closely with senators and legislators to improve the quality of the Personal Care Assistance program for both consumers and workers. Brigette gave an interview last year to Minnesota Public Radio on gas prices and their effects on seniors and people with disabilities, which was later broadcast by National Public Radio. The story was thenpicked up by the New York Times and covered by Access Press. Brigette is admired for her advocacy work in Minnesota and treasured by many for her optimism and wit.

A large part of our responsibility as advocates is to educate others – particularly decision-makers – about the importance of direct care work. There is much more to do in that regard, but we will fight this battle until the work I am proud to do is made attractive enough as a career option to attract and keep the robust, plentiful workforce we need. We want to be surrounded by PCAs who are fairly compensated, respected, and providing high-quality services and care.

Until that day comes, my fellow advocates and I, who know exactly why we get up and go to work on this issue every day, will stay focused on our common vision. And in the meantime, we are pleased and grateful for milestones like theStar Tribune article, which let us know that there are many people out there who see this “invisible” workforce and hear what we’re saying about it.

Bridget Siljander
Direct Care Worker Specialist
Direct Care Alliance

This entry was posted by  on Monday, May 11th, 2009 at 11:05 pm and is filed under Advocacyas leaderscareer advancementDirect care consumersFeatured Newslegislation and regulationMinnesotapublic policyrespectVoices Institutewages and benefits. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, ortrackback from your own site.

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