As the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities undergoes changes in New York state, workers see self-directed care and a voice for direct care staff through unionization as the way forward. If front line workers are to continue supporting for people with disabilities effectively, they will need the right to raise their voices for quality care.
Dawn Clement (as pictured above) is a Direct Care Worker and a proud member of SEIU Local 200United. She gave a testimony at the “OPWDD Public Hearing Statewide Comprehensive Plan: 2012-2016 Capital District DDSO.”
My name is Dawn Clement, and I work as a consumer assistant at Community Work and Independence, which serves people with disabilities the Warren, Washington, Essex and Saratoga counties. I am also a member of SEIU Local 200 United, a union the represents many direct workers throughout upstate New York Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak today. I want to speak from the point of view of a front line worker, about where we are today, and where we need to be in the future.
The five year plan is based on a principle we all support, providing the opportunity for every individual to live in the most integrated setting and with dignity and quality of life. However, in our agency we are feeling the effects of cuts in funding that make it difficult to continue to provide the best quality of life for our consumers. I have worked in the field for 27 years , and I have seen us go from a great quality of care to a reduced quality of care . We once cared for our disabled persons, but now it feels more like a business that cares only for the bottom line. My concern is how are we going to use the plan to fix a problem that we as a state have created in our cuts.
Staffing is often strained in day programs and residences. Our direct care workers often wind up doing the work of two people, and this adds mental stress for everyone. While safety is always a primary concern, the shortage of staff can put staff in situations where the risk level increases. For example, if we have a consumer who needs one on one attention, but we also have an outing scheduled, without enough staff, it puts the worker in very difficult position. More importantly, it makes it hard for us to give our consumers the attention and support they need.
Another specific example of the effect of reduced staffing is that in one of our day programs the consumers have to eat in the same room where they go to the bathroom, because there are not enough staff to take them out of the room while maintaining coverage. A small thing like this can really impact quality of life.
A more serious situation occurs in residences where you have only one or two staff overnight. If we have an individual who has a tendency to wander outside, this puts the worker in a very difficult position, to either go out and search for them, or to stay with the rest of the residents. We are all very concerned about insuring the safety of our residents, but in situations like this, the bare bones staffing can make it nearly impossible to really do the job right.
Overall, what I would like to communicate is that the accomplish this five year plan to serve many more consumers in a less restrictive community setting, the state will have to allocate sufficient resources to the voluntary agencies to provide the staff needed to do it right. You also need to make sure they spend it on staff and not on overhead expenses. Those of us who are direct care workers really want to do the best possible job for our consumers. I hope that as OPWDD implements this transition plan, it will make an effort to listen to the workers and to our union because we can help make it work.
A union ensures dignity and respect on the job. Workers and their union strive to create the best environment and experience for their clients. Staff training, on-going supports and wages allow workers to remain in the career path of their choice while keeping up with standards and quality of care.