San Diego CA— In 1987, President Ronald Reagan made a public proclamation that the month of March should be recognized as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month to “increase public awareness of the needs and potential of Americans with developmental disabilities. Over the ensuing 31 years much has changed. The theme for Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month 2018 is, “See Me for Me!” to Home of Guiding Hands (HGH), this is its everyday mission.
Since its inception in 1961, HGH has provided benchmark programming and housing for men, women, and children with developmental disabilities. As the organization celebrates its mission and the people it serves, it has also become engaged in the issue of how the remarkable individuals who become caretakers for the developmentally disabled are classified under California State Law.
HGH has evolved from a 14-acre campus in Lakeside, to 31 four-to-six person homes and numerous community based services throughout San Diego County and Imperial Valley. It has become one of the largest providers of supports and services in San Diego and Imperial Counties, serving more than 2,500 infants, adolescents and adults with developmental disabilities.
“Currently, our staff who support our clients are classified as entry level workers by the state,” said Mark Klaus, President and CEO of HGH. “The wage issue is significant to us, as we witness the depth and breadth of their skill and dedication required every day to maximize the experience of all who come to us. We believe our direct care staff are grossly underpaid and undervalued for the work that they do.”
The minimum wage in San Diego is $11.50 an hour. The State minimum is $11.00. The State has taken the position that it will only reimburse employees at the rate of $11.00, despite local wage ordinances, and that no rate adjustments are needed.
“Those of us in the developmental disabilities arena find this position by the state to be both disheartening and unacceptable,” said Klaus. “The remarkable staff at HGH—Direct Support Professionals—are the front-line people who allow HGH and others like us to truly have a positive impact on the lives of individuals with developmental disabilities and their families. They allow us to fulfill our mission… To Improve The Lives Of Those We Serve!”
He added, “We don’t see ourselves as caregivers. Rather, we are partners, facilitators, community members and teachers. For 50 years, we have used best practices in our service provision to persons with developmental disabilities thereby maximizing their independence, productivity and quality of life.”
Families served by HGH agree. Megan is a 36 year old who has been with HGH since 2009. Her father, Chris, is a small business owner, and he and his wife cared for Megan at home until 2008 when his wife passed away. After her passing, he found the demands of single parenting very difficult and though he was active in Megan’s care all of her life, trying to care for an adult female with mild cerebral palsy and an intellectual delay was too difficult for him on his own. He is an avid supporter of HGH and strongly believes that Megan’s caretakers deserve to be classified as professional employees, not as unskilled workers who are only subject to minimum wage.
Steve Scuba, and his ex-wife Kristen, parents of Lauren, a member of the HGH community, agree. Lauren is almost 30 years old. She is the oldest of three siblings. She was diagnosed with a brain tumor at an early age and was cared for by her parents until she was a young adult. Steve, a retired police officer, said, “The stress associated with Laurens diagnosis on the younger children was hard to deal with. Lauren is much happier at HGH. As a direct care professional myself, I can’t grasp the concept that the caretakers only make minimum wage.”
Andrea is a Registered Nurse and her husband is a retired doctor. They have a 30-year-old son, Matt, who has lived at HGH since he was 18. Matt has two siblings. His disability is severe; however, he gets around really well. He is happy all of the time. “We couldn’t care for Matt at home,” said Andrea. “HGH has dramatically improved the quality of life for the family and Matt. I can’t imagine how a dedicated caretaker for an individual like Matt should be categorized as an entry level worker and paid minimum wage.”
Klaus noted that the low reimbursement of caregivers has a dramatic impact on how agencies like HGH struggle to make ends meet. “Ninety percent of providers are experiencing increased labor costs; 46 percent of providers have closed, or downsized programs and 60 percent are considering closing or downsizing programs. These are only a few of the challenges faced by organizations like HGH.”
Recently, Klaus met with Jason Weisz, Senior Field Representative for State Senator Toni Atkins. Klaus was joined at this meeting by the CEOs of the San Diego Regional Center, ARC of California, United Cerebral Palsy San Diego and Employment and Community Options.
“Together we employ more than 3,300 staff in San Diego County and support a significantly high percentage of the more than 27,000 children, adolescents and adults with developmental disabilities that receive services in San Diego and Imperial Counties,” said Klaus. “We are united in our belief that caregivers for individuals with development disabilities have highly professional skill sets and expertise, and deserve to be compensated accordingly.”
He added, “The time has come to take action on behalf of our committed, well-trained and dedicated staff. Our next step is to present the powerful evidence to the State, and work together to generate legislative support that makes sense for our caregivers, and ensures organizations like ours continue to provide optimum service to the individuals and families we care about so much.”