Issues: Quality Services

Our members are committed to delivering the highest quality services and supports for persons with mental health needs and developmental disabilities.  As the person with most frequent and consistent interactions with clients and consumers, human service professionals are a key link in the quality of care.  By joining their voices together and working alongside the advocacy community, human service professionals have made great strides to improve the quality of services and supports they provide.

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Senate Rejects Ryan Budget Proposal That Would Have Cut Medicaid

SEIU members across the country have been calling and emailing their Senators to reject the radical Ryan budget plan passed by the House of Representatives last month.  The plan included massive cuts to Medicaid services for 8 million Americans with disabilities in order to pay for tax cuts to corporations and millionaires.  In a stunning rebuke of the radical proposals of Representative Ryan, the Senate voted down the Ryan Budget Plan yesterday.   SEIU President Mary Kay Henry released this statement last night:

“Voters across America have been telling Congressional Republicans to focus on creating good jobs and to keep their hands off their healthcare and retirement security. Today’s vote is another indication that any budget that guts Medicare and Medicaid while extending tax giveaways to millionaires and corporations is unacceptable to the American people.

“We cannot simply cut our way to a budget solution. We need to create revenue by making corporations pay their fair share and by putting people back to work. Members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, need to listen to Main Street and do their jobs. That should start by working to create good jobs for the more than 13 million Americans who need them.”

Our work is not done.  We still need a budget that protects vital human services, like Medicaid, for the Americans with disabilities who depend on them to live independent lives as part of their community.  Around the country SEIU members are working with disability advocates and community partners to call for a budget that reflects the reflects our values on Main Street, not a corporations bottom line on Wall Street.  Sign-up here to stay involved in our fight to preserve Medicaid funding.

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Stories from the field: Employment of People With Disabilities

During SEIUs 2008 Convention, our union members passed a resolution committing the resources and leadership of the union to expand employment opportunities for people with disabilities in good union jobs with benefits. The following is an example shared by SEIU Local 721 member David Mulvey about how SEIU Local 1021 in California has worked to implement this resolution and part of an upcoming series of blog posts on this topic.

Derrick is a young man with autism, a developmental disability, who worked at a local hospital though his high school ROP program. Upon graduation he continued to volunteer at the hospital, but there was not an opportunity to become a paid employee. He then applied for and was accepted into Children’s Hospital Oakland’s Project SEARCH program operated by East Bay Innovations.

Derrick, an adult with autism, Project Search graduate and proud union member.

Derrick, an adult with autism, Project Search graduate and proud union member.


Derrick did well in his Project SEARCH internship assignments, but continued to talk to his job coaches about his desire to return to work at his old hospital. East Bay Innovations and Derrick’s former ROP teacher contacted Derrick’s former manager at the hospital Pete Laidlaw, (Mailroom supervisor), and Peter stated he would love to have Derrick work there again but that hospital staff were unionized and there was no job classification whose requirements Derek could meet.

Having earlier built a relationship with SEIU Local 1021 (the local that represented their staff) and knowing about the resolution. They contacted Don Evans, worksite organizer for Local 1021. Don in turn put them in touch with Bernie DeArman, worksite organizer for the hospital from SEIU UHW. EBI staff shared Derrick’s story and a copy of the resolution with Bernie who agreed to meet with the union leadership at the hospital and hospital management. Bernie was able to craft an agreement that created a new special job slot set aside for a worker with a developmental disability.

The hospital had made a commitment that this position would not replace any existing workers. And the union agreed to exempt this position from normal seniority layoff rules. Derek is now a proud union member. He earns $14.50/hr has vacation and health care benefits at his dream job at the local hospital. He has lots of friends there. His fellow employees agree he does a great job and makes his hospital a much better place to work.

There is much more work to do to create not only jobs, but jobs with good wages benefits and advancement opportunities for people with disabilities. We will continue to share our successes here on the blog. If you would like to connect with an SEIU local about how to expand employment opportunities, please contact us here through the website.

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Hundreds of mental heath and home caregivers rally in Olympia to protect services

Put People First!
On April 7, more than 500 community mental health workers and long-term caregivers, members of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW and 775NW, rallied at the state capitol in Olympia, WA. The healthcare workers urged legislators to protect essential mental health, disability care and low-income housing programs by closing tax loopholes benefiting banks and wealthy corporations.

After protesting outside a Chase Bank branch, union members occupied the State Capitol rotunda for several hours; sixteen members of local 775NW staged a nonviolent sit-in outside Governor Gregoire’s office and were arrested by Capitol police. By the end of the day, the Governor agreed to meet with a delegation of healthcare workers, who delivered the same message: balancing the state budget solely by cutting social and human services is immoral. Before cutting services, we must close tax loopholes benefiting Wall Street banks and other wealthy interests.
The action at the state capitol is part of a broad effort to protect vital human services in Washington. Proposed budget cuts would leave 27,000 Washington kids without healthcare and tens of thousands of people with mental illness are losing housing and services. Meanwhile, legislators are giving away millions in tax breaks to corporate chicken farms for warm chicken bedding, $5 million a year to private jet owners, and $100 million a year to Wall Street Banks.

In March, 1199NW President Diane Sosne, RN, MN, brought the twisted priorities of the state to life with an Op-Ed published in the Olympian when she described the differences between Bill and a chicken. Bill suffers from mental illness and chemical dependency, but thanks to a vital program Disability Lifeline, he has been able to get on his feet. Unfortunately, as Diane writes, Bill’s needs are not as important as a chicken:

…last fall the state cut monthly Disability Lifeline payments from $339 to $258. Bill could no longer afford to rent his apartment, and began sleeping on the street. Without the support he needed, he relapsed, found himself in jail, then ended up in an intensive inpatient treatment facility.

Now about those chickens: Ten years ago, the state Legislature passed a special tax break to benefit a few dozen factory farms that raise chickens. There’s a tax break on bedding – wood shavings, sawdust, straw, shredded paper – and another tax break for natural gas to heat the barns so the birds can stay warm. All told, these tax breaks cost Washington $4.5 million over the last four years. With the state facing a $5 billion deficit, it’s time for the corporate chicken farms to pay their fair share.

We’ve got our work cut out for us in state houses like Washington across the US. SEIU members are standing with people with disabilities and mental health needs to protect human services, not tax breaks for corporations and millionaires. Sign-up here to stay up to date on our in WA and across the US.

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Rallies Across Massachusetts Kick-off Human Serivce Workers Campaign

Originally posted at seiu509.org
Local 509 members advocate for safer working conditions and a living wage

Malden Human Serivce Workers Rally

Over the last few weeks hundreds of Local 509 members have braved the cold to join together in rallies across the state. With chants of “Hey hey, ho ho, unsafe staffing’s got to go!” we brought the message to the public that while human service work is important to our communities, it is often not given the respect and dignity that it deserves. At each of the rallies, union members and allies from the community spoke of the often unsafe working conditions and inadequate pay that private-sector human service workers face in Massachusetts. A special thanks goes out to the numerous 509 public-sector members who attended and spoke in support of their union sisters and brothers in the private -sector.

Malden Human Service Worker Rally

The rallies kicked off with a mid-day gathering in front of the Malden Center MBTA station on Tuesday. Speakers from Massachusetts Advocates Standing Strong (MASS), the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the Greater Boston Labor Council, and a number of other community allies joined our private and public sector members to support human service workers.

Malden Human Serivce Workers Rally

Wednesday’s rally brought us to Lincoln Square in downtown Worcester at rush hour. As in Malden, there was tremendous turnout from SEIU Local 509 members and our community allies, including a strong contingent from MPower. Amidst numerous waves and car-horn honks of support, State Senator Michael Moore as well as representatives from MASS and MPower, spoke passionately in support of the hard work that human service workers do for the people of our state.

Worcester Human Service Rally

Continuing west, Springfield was the next stop on our tour of the commonwealth. Along with the 509 private- and public-sector members who staged the rally, representatives from Western Mass Jobs With Justice and the UAW stood with us to support human service workers in the Pioneer Valley.

In addition to the many passers-by, our message was also spread throughout Western Massachusetts with news reports airing that night on WWLP-22 (click here to watch), CBS 3 Springfield (click here to watch), and WGGB-6, and a radio broadcast on WFCR.

Worcester Human Service Worker Rally

Our rallies concluded with a trip to New Bedford on Friday. With support from the Greater Southeastern Massachusetts Labor Council and other community allies, our members made a strong showing in front of City Hall. In fact, after the rally a group of 509 members were invited inside to meet with Mayor Scott Lang as well as a group of the local State Representatives and State Senators to discuss the issues facing human service workers in their community. We would like to thank the mayor and the state delegation for taking the time to listen to our concerns.

New Bedford Human Service Worker Rally

With a week of successful rallies bringing attention to our cause, the private-sector members of Local 509 are now organizing for the upcoming contract campaigns at a number of our facilities. In order to make sure that human service workers are treated with dignity and respect, we’re taking our fight for safe staffing and a living-wage to the State House and local legislators around the state.

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Providers in Oregon tell their story to legislators in Salem

Last week hundreds of providers of disability services and supports flocked to Salem for a Lobby day to protect the clients they provide service and supports to from looming budget cuts. Not everyone was able to attend in person, but through the magic of technology they were able to deliver their message via video to their representatives. Check out some of these powerful stories from providers all across Oregon talking about the impact budget cuts would have on the clients they serve.

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Support Senate Bill 524

Originally posted at EmpowerOregon.org

Write your state senator now in support of SB 524 allowing people in recovery with criminal histories to continue to work in the mental health and addictions field.

In 2009 a law was passed that created a list of permanently disqualifying crimes that would bar any worker with one of these crimes in their past from ever working in many fields including addictions and mental health.

This law impacts hundreds of excellent addictions councilors and mental health workers who themselves are in recovery. There is substantial research indicating that services provided by individuals who are in recovery themselves results in better outcomes for clients. A counselor who has personal experience with addiction or mental illness is better able to relate to their clients and their clients can receive the treatment they need in an environment where they do not feel judged. However, these same effective workers are also more likely to have committed a crime, meaning this bill would result in a substantial loss of qualified and effective mental health and addictions professionals.

Last summer, with your help, we were able to delay implementation of the bill until July 2011 for addictions workers, but we need a permanent fix that includes mental health and addiction workers. There is currently a bill in the Oregon Senate (SB524) which would exempt Mental Health and Addictions workers from the list of permanently disqualifying crimes. Workers with a criminal record would be given a fitness assessment and they would be able to take this assessment with them if they change jobs and are again subject to a background check.

In order for us to permanently fix the legislation passed in 2009 we need your support. Senators are deciding right now if they will support SB 524 and they need to hear from you. Please take some time today to write your Senator telling them why you support frontline Addictions and Mental Health workers and the passage of SB 524.

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Envisioning the Future of Developmental Disability Professionals

As we have seen in the past, Developmental Disability service delivery systems are too often developed without the input of those on the front lines providing services and supports. Right now, we have a unique opportunity to change this.

The Federal Administration on Developmental Disabilities (ADD) is collecting public comment from stakeholders to identify priorities for a 5-year strategic plan. This is our chance to establish the direct support profession as a viable career path with decent wages, benefits, opportunities for growth and training, and other initiatives to recruit, train and retain a workforce that can provide high quality service and supports.

Submit your comments online here.

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Caregivers release white paper linking mental health safety net, public safety

It’s well known that the vast majority of people living with mental illness are peaceful, functioning members of their community, posing no risk to themselves or others. This is because treatment works, when dedicated mental healthcare professionals are available to provide it.

But some state’s systems are falling short — reaching barely half of low-income residents in need of state-funded mental health services. When this frayed safety net fails, some people will lose control—with tragic results that wreck lives and destroy everyone’s sense of safety in the community.

This month, members of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW gathered at the State Capitol in Olympia to release a powerful new look at the crisis facing mental healthcare in Washington state. The report is entitled Don’t Look Away: With a collapsing mental health safety net, Washington is losing the fight against preventable tragedies (pdf).

In WA, cuts to mental health programs would leave mental health patients to receive care in emergency rooms, jails, and hospitals instead of community settings. Providing mental healthcare in the community costs $2,162 a year, while similar care in a prison costs $31,000 or $182,000 in a state hospital.

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Expanding Access to Crisis Diversion Facilities in Seattle

What’s the biggest mental health treatment facility in your community?

Chances are pretty good it’s your local jail.

In a familiar cycle, people with untreated mental illness end up on the street and get sideways with the law. They get arrested for a non-violent misdemeanor – creating a public disturbance or some other petty charge – and wind up in jail. It’s the worst place to be for a person struggling with mental illness.

Here in Martin Luther King County, Washington (where Seattle is), on any given day in local jails 15% of inmates have a serious mental illness and 80% have drug or alcohol problems.

For many years, mental health and chemical dependency treatment professionals in Washington state have watched with frustration as their clients disappeared into the jail system. There they suffer more than the typical inmate, and have a harder time getting out. King County Councilmember Bob Ferguson has pointed out that an individual booked into county jail stays for an average of 20 days; someone with mental illness booked on an identical charge will spend an average of 158 days in jail, often waiting for a competency evaluation that may take months. Not only is there a social and human cost; at $300 a day to house and feed an inmate in a psychiatric unit, taxpayers end up paying millions for inappropriate, ineffective care.

Through their union, SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, community mental health and chemical dependency treatment professionals are joining up with allies to change this. Uniting with a range of advocates – human service agencies, NAMI, police, judges, prosecutors and first responders – union members in King County and elsewhere in Washington state have worked to get local governments to establish crisis diversion facilities. When police arrest people who exhibit symptoms of mental illness or chemical dependency, they can take them to the crisis diversion facility as an alternative to jail. Instead of a cot behind bars and an environment of abuse, these people can get professional services treatment and referral to services based on their particular needs.

In order to fund crisis diversion facilities, counties throughout Washington state have enacted local sales tax measures specifically intended to fund innovative mental health and chemical dependency treatment programs.

In King County, union members worked alongside allies to secure passage of the measure by a bipartisan majority of the King County Council. The following year, the County Council also established a stakeholders’ committee to advise the Council on what projects to fund with the new revenues. SEIU Healthcare 1199NW members have played an active role on this committee. In partnership with unionized providers, such as Downtown Emergency Services Center (DESC), union members have advocated for the establishment of a crisis diversion facility. The advisory committee ranked the creation of a crisis diversion facility at the top of its priority list, which the County Council adopted.

Earlier this year, the County put the crisis diversion facility project out to bid. Among several bidders, DESC was successful and is in the process of setting up the facility. The result will be more jobs – with union rights and wages. And it will create a much more sensible and humane path for hundreds of clients in King County every year.

Union members hope that as the crisis diversion facility and other innovative programs get launched, they will see the day when their clinic, and not the jail, is the place where their clients can be found.

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Promoting Choice of Services in Massachusetts

In 2008, the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health (DMH) developed a new service-delivery model — Community Based Flexible Supports (CBFS) — to increase access to community-based services and promote the recovery process for people seeking treatment within the community.

Although well-intended, the implementation of CBFS has not met the needs of participants in some key ways.

“Under CBFS, many participants are not able to retain the longstanding relationships and personalized supports from case managers that they have depended on for their recovery process,” explained case manager Colleen Doherty.

Without this consistent service, participants are being forced into accessing services in settings that do not meet their needs-rather than choosing the services and settings that are most appropriate for their recovery.   This runs counter to the purpose of CBFS to expand access and choice and it violates the rights of an individual to make a choice in accessing services.

To address these concerns, we formed Mental Health Advocates United for Better Communities which brings together SEIU member case managers and CBFS workers along with mental health advocates to promote choice for participants, higher quality services and accountability within the CBFS program.

We have partnered with M-POWER and NAMI Massachusetts to call on the state legislator to address these flaws in the CBFS system.

Check out this powerful video of speakers at our hearing at the state house — including participants, family members, case workers and advocates — discussing how the CBFS has impacted their lives.

If you live in MA, join us in calling on DMH commissioner Barbara Leadholm to address our concerns about choice, accountability and quality for DMH services.  Help us reach our goal of sending you 1,700 letters by clicking this link to our online action center.

Working together with partners like M-POWER, NAMI and others Mental Health Advocates United for Better Communities will continue to advocate for choice, accountability and quality for all mental health services in MA.  Check out our campaign website for more information, to get involved and to see what other issues we are taking on.

Tom Barbera is the Advocate Community Liaison at SEIU Local 509.  He began his career as an advocate for persons with disabilities twenty years ago as a direct support professional.

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