A Person's Value
"We need to care for our vulnerable, valuable adults in Supported Living...With my twins I learned first hand that a person’s value is not determined by their cognitive or physical abilities". It's a powerful sentiment spoken by Jeanne Richmond, an involved PSRS parent. This past November, Jeanne (pictured right, seated behind her sons) spoke at Legislative Night - a forum for people with developmental & intellectual disabilities, families, friends, advocates, and social workers, to talk to their legislators about the real issues impacting the lives of people with disabilities.
Jeanne knows the reality of Supported Living - no matter how great the organization may be, lack of funding leads to high turnover, which can impact the quality of support her sons and others receive. Jeanne is not alone - she decided to take her message to legislators. "We enjoy each of our children regardless of ability! However, it is sad that our children with disabilities have fewer choices and less independence in life than those without disability. As a parent I will always feel somewhat responsible for their care and well-being". Jeanne's sons have been supported by PSRS for the past seven years - both parents are very active in the twins' lives which means they constantly engage with staff and program teams. Jeanne understands the value of well trained and committed staff who not only care for her sons, but know how to provide the complex supports that are needed.
When asked what motivated her to speak at Legislative night, Jeanne replied, "I wanted to make a difference in the state budget by asking legislators to fully fund the needs for employees. They need a competitive living wage! Many employees would like to stay, and have a heart for the clients - they simply cannot afford to stay in a job that pays so little in this competitive job market". Supported Living sees a turnover rate of over 50% industry wide - it is impossible to provide the best quality of support without stable, trained direct support staff. It can take several months to train one staff person - PSRS employs nearly 200 direct support staff.
Due to underfunding, the industry cannot keep the pace with minimum wage increases in WA state. Sadly, Supported Living providers are funded about 6% above minimum wage (a decrease from 24% over the last decade) to provide intensive supports to people with disabilities living in the community. Responsibilities of a direct support staff include personal care, medication administration, healthcare, transportation, household maintenance, financial management, and community activities to name a few. Many are paid less than the average fast food worker as the state and city minimum wages continue to climb. While lack of adequate funding impacts services to people currently living in the community, it also prevents others from moving into their own homes from institutions, nursing facilities, hospitals, or their family's homes.
"It is vital that legislators be informed about the need for better pay to attract and keep qualified employees in Supportive Living. My twin sons are personally impacted by high turnover rate and shifts that are understaffed". It can be devastating for a person to lose staff they are fond of, and have grown close with - many staff are also emotionally impacted as they are forced to decide between working with people they care about, and a job that will provide them with enough of a wage to meet their (and their family's) needs as costs of living quickly rise. While Jeanne is a strong supporter of PSRS, she sees the impact lack of funding has on her sons and their staff. "After speaking with other advocates for wage increases for employees in Supported Living I became even more aware of how urgent the need is".
Jeanne would encourage parents and advocates to attend and participate in future legislative nights. "Legislators need our votes at election time. If we come to legislative night and advocacy days they get the message in a powerful way. I believe many legislators want to do the right thing. If they hear our voices they are validated in supporting the budget we request. We need to speak up for folks in Supported Living. The clients may not be able to speak for themselves. Our voices need to be heard on their behalf".
PSRS is fortunate to have parents like Jeanne Richmond supporting our cause and helping us fight for fair wages for our staff. Without staff, there would be no Supported Living. Without Supported Living, there would be 4600 fewer people with developmental and intellectual disabilities living in the community across WA state. A person's value reaches far beyond their abilities - PSRS recognizes that those we support and the people who support them are extremely valuable and we will work tirelessly to make sure legislators know this too.
You can follow Jeanne's lead and help fight for a better wage for Supported Living. Contact your WA state legislators now to let them know that PSRS staff and people receiving services deserve better - we need a living wage! Click here for more information and ways you can help keep Supported Living a viable option for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities.