Archive for February, 2009

Getting to Know You: DCA’s Brenda Nachtway Follows Up with PA Legislators

Posted by on February 27th, 2009 at 1:43 pm | 5 Comments »
Roy Gedat, Brenda Nachtway, and Connie Kreider

Roy Gedat, Brenda Nachtway, and Connie Kreider

Roy Gedat and I followed up again on our meetings with Pennsylvania legislators last month, visiting the offices of U.S. Senators Arlen Specter and Robert Casey and State Representative Christopher Carney in Washington, D.C. Our long-term goal is to secure some government money for recruitment, retention, empowerment, and training.

My colleague Connie Kreider, another founding member of the Pennsylvania Direct Care Workers Association, joined Roy and me on this trip. It was great to have her with us. I made the appointments, but this is still a learning experience for me, so Roy still did a lot of the talking.

Connie and I had visited Senator Specter in Harrisburg and Congressman Carney in my hometown in December to prepare for the January meetings. It’s very important to make contact on the local level first. That’s what they keep telling us in Washington: contact your local representative. That’s the person who’s really going to help you make changes. You can’t start at the top; you have to start at the bottom.

They also encouraged us and other direct care workers to get out more to talk to our local representatives. They said it’s very helpful to hear about what we need from the horses’ mouth, so to speak – not just from our bosses.

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What a Difference Direct Care Makes: Saving Brad Pitt in Benjamin Button

Posted by on February 25th, 2009 at 9:59 am | Comments Off on What a Difference Direct Care Makes: Saving Brad Pitt in Benjamin Button

leonila-low-resIn all the talk about Benjamin Button in the build-up to the Oscars, I never heard anyone say it’s about direct care workers. But for me, it is a perfect portrayal of who direct care workers are, and of the values that often lead them to put their own comfort or financial security second to their love of people and their desire to support other people’s autonomy and help them live their lives more fully.

Benjamin Button is stricken with a rare disease that makes him age backwards, so while he is getting younger, everyone else is getting older. We can all hear the ticking of our life’s clock, so watching that deterioration progress in reverse makes the movie a compelling exploration of a human journey. What does it mean to live, to be human, to achieve our dreams while living with a disability — in this case, starting at the end of life and gradually regressing to infancy?

The movie opens as Benjamin’s mother dies in labor. His father is horrified at discovering an elderly man in his newborn son’s body. He picks Benjamin up and runs through streets the streets of New Orleans until he finds himself on the poor side of town, where he leaves the baby on the steps of a humble home.

But Benjamin grows to be young, strong, handsome, and “perfect” – Brad Pitt, no less.  He finds the love of his life, and he becomes a father, all despite being abandoned by his father at the steps of a humble home on the poor side of New Orleans. And the secret to his success is Queenie, a direct care worker.

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My Mother’s “Girls”

Posted by on February 24th, 2009 at 5:09 pm | 4 Comments »
Terry Lynch

Terry Lynch

I recently met a young woman who works for a local home care agency. When I asked her about her work, she said: “I’m only a personal care worker, but I am going to school so I can get a better job.”

My reply to her will serve as my introduction to readers of this blog. In future postings, I’ll provide a few details about my work and many more about my experiences as my mother’s caregiver — and my advocacy on behalf of our cause.

I told that young woman how sad her reply made me. She has one of the most important jobs in the United States, so it pains me to see her work so undervalued – even by her.

I explained that my reaction was intensely personal, shaped by my experience of caring for my mother for many years. Those years could have been simply difficult, but instead they were wonderful and rewarding in many ways, largely thanks to the commitment and support of direct care workers.

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If I Can Do It, So Can You!

Posted by on February 13th, 2009 at 12:07 am | 1 Comment »
Bridget Siljander

Bridget Siljander

Earlier this month, I had  a long talk with someone from the Wage and Hour Division of the Office of the Secretary of the Department of Labor. She had called because she wanted to hear what I had to say about the exclusion of home care workers from the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

Why did the U.S. Department of Labor call a direct support professional for input on a federal ruling? Well, that’s a long story.

It started when I joined my state direct care worker association a year and a half ago. I had no idea what to expect — and I certainly didn’t expect to become the president. But that’s what happened in the second meeting, when I was voted president of the Direct Support Professional Association of Minnesota because of my leadership initiative. I joined DSPAM as a part of a board revitalization, so a number of us were new. I was not only new but a virgin advocate, if you will.

In the coming months, I would learn about how to run effective meetings, oversee activities, talk publicly about my organization, and more. The learning curve was painful, but I loved every second of it. I loved it for I am a direct care worker who knows how much we are worth, but how little we are valued.

My frustration is what motivated me to want to advocate. I was out to show the world how important we workers are and why we deserve better.

My education as an advocate was compounded when I was selected to attend the Voices Institute, a leadership development program designed by the Direct Care Alliance. I was completely transformed as an advocate during the week I spent in this retreat-style program last May. A lot has happened since then– lots of amazing opportunities to advocate and grow as a leader.

Now, let me show what I can do!

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Eldercare Workforce Alliance Names New Project Director

Posted by on February 11th, 2009 at 4:57 pm | Comments Off on Eldercare Workforce Alliance Names New Project Director
Alice Hedt

Alice Hedt

At a meeting last week in Washington, D.C., the Eldercare Workforce Alliance we told you about in December named its new project director: Alice Hedt, former executive director of NCCNHR: The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care.

“EWA’s goal is to develop practical solutions that will build a caring and competent workforce providing high-quality, culturally sensitive, person-directed, and family-focused care for America’s elders,” said Hedt in the alliance’s first press release.

“We are pleased that EWA has hired such a strong and experienced leader as Alice Hedt, and eager to begin working with Alice and EWA’s other members to improve elder care services,” says DCA Executive Director Leonila Vega, a founding member of the EWA.

The Direct Care Alliance is one of 25 national organizations in the EWA.

Elise Nakhnikian
Communications Director
Direct Care Alliance

ICA Asks Lawmakers to Expand Health Care Coverage for DCWs

Posted by on February 11th, 2009 at 4:55 pm | Comments Off on ICA Asks Lawmakers to Expand Health Care Coverage for DCWs

The Iowa CareGivers Association reminded state lawmakers of the need to expand health care coverage for direct care workers at a January 26 ICA Day at the Capitol event.

ICA members handed out yo-yos to state lawmakers, explaining that “yo-yo” is an acronym for “you’re on your own,” which is what the lawmakers would be telling elders and people with disabilities if they didn’t support efforts to improve access to health care.

“People are beginning to talk about health care access and workforce issues in the same sentence. I think they’re finally beginning to realize that access to health and long-term care services at any level is not possible without those people who are working on the front lines.” said Di Findley, executive director of the Iowa CareGivers Association, in an interview with WHO Radio in Des Moines.

The event was also covered in a legislative roundup in the Waterloo/Cedar Falls Courier.

Elise Nakhnikian
Communications Director
Direct Care Alliance

PHI Publishes New Materials on DCWs, Economic Stimulus

Posted by on February 11th, 2009 at 4:44 pm | Comments Off on PHI Publishes New Materials on DCWs, Economic Stimulus

phi-stimulus-info-package-imagebiggerPHI has updated its Who Are Direct Care Workers? (PDF) fact sheet and issued an information package (PDF) that makes the case for investing in direct care workers on the federal level.

Who Are Direct Care Workers?  analyzes the latest figures available from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to create a demographic portrait of the direct-care workforce and outline its key challenges, including low wages, lack of health care coverage, and reliance on public benefits.

Key facts include:

  •   There were approximately 3 million direct care workers in the U.S. in 2006. That number is expected to increase to 4 million by 2016;
  •   Only 57% of direct care workers are employed full-time year-round;
  •   Just over half (52%) of all direct care workers are members of a minority group; and
  •   Median annual earnings are $17,000 for all direct care workers, with personal and home care aides averaging just $14,000 a year and nursing, psychiatric and home health aides averaging $18,502.

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Leading Nursing Journal Calls on Nurses to Advocate for DCWs

Posted by on February 10th, 2009 at 2:16 pm | Comments Off on Leading Nursing Journal Calls on Nurses to Advocate for DCWs
Diana J. Mason

Diana J. Mason

After talking to DCA Direct Care Worker Specialist Bridget Siljander and DCA Executive Director Leonila Vega at the DCA’s September 11 reception, the editor of the American Journal of Nursing called on her fellow nurses to  advocate for direct care workers (DCWs) as part of their push for excellence in the nursing profession.

“The Web site of the American Nurses Association has a position statement from 1995 addressing the importance of nurses focusing on improving long-term care, and statements from 1992 and 2007 acknowledging the importance of UAPs [unlicensed assistive personnel] in long-term care,” wrote Editor-in-Chief Diana J. Mason  in “Blinded by Degrees,” the lead editorial for the January 2009 issue of the AJN. “But I’ve found no evidence that any national nursing organization is advocating on behalf of DCWs.”

Mason starts her editorial with what she learned about direct care workers from Siljander and Vega. “They’re the backbone of our long-term care system,” she quotes Vega as saying. “They are overburdened, underpaid, overworked.” Mason called it “embarrassing” that no national nursing organizations had yet supported the DCA.

Nurses — and anyone else — interested in showing their support for direct care workers can contact Vega at or visit the DCA website’s What You Can Do section for ideas.

Elise Nakhnikian
Communications Director
Direct Care Alliance

Economists, Researchers help DCA Make the Case for Including DCWs in the Economic Recovery Plan

Posted by on February 10th, 2009 at 12:50 pm | 8 Comments »
Leonila Vega

Leonila Vega

A room full of economists and researchers.

That’s what you wish you for when you’re an advocate for low-income women who are in dire need of supports: A room full of economists who can help you explain to President Obama, his cabinet, and our national and state legislators why they need to stop ignoring direct care workers. Maybe “ignore” is too strong a word, but it’s frustrating to see no mention of direct care workers in the plans being made to stimulate the economy or fund Medicaid, when direct care workers who are being paid a family-sustaining wage are just what our economy needs.

Every night, I read and watch news about powerful banks getting billions of dollars to bail them out, car company execs landing in DC in their private jets to collect billions, and nearly another trillion from the treasury being allocated for other projects. I wonder, what about the direct care workers who toil daily to prepare meals, give showers, perform transfers, drive people to the doctor and church, and otherwise keep families together in their communities? 

What about the direct care workers – most of them women  — who have to decide whether to pay the telephone bill, the rent or the doctor’s bill to make sure their families can make it one more month without losing basics such as housing? Never mind health care, which so many can’t afford.

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What Issues Do You Want Our National Direct Care Partnership to Support?

Posted by on February 5th, 2009 at 8:22 pm | 2 Comments »

As you know if you’re a regular reader of our blog or newsletter, the Direct Care Alliance sponsors the National Direct Care Partnership, a coalition of individuals and groups that advocate for legislation and public policies that support direct care workers.

The Partnership will meet soon to talk about taking positions on proposed legislation and regulations. But first, DCA National Advocacy Director Roy Gedat, who facilitates the coalition’s meetings, wants to know what issues or policy solutions you think they should consider.

Send your ideas to Roy at or add them below as a comment.

The Voices Institute is Looking for a Few Good Women – and Men

Posted by on February 5th, 2009 at 8:09 pm | Comments Off on The Voices Institute is Looking for a Few Good Women – and Men
Vicki Erickson

Vicki Erickson

I have been a direct care worker for the past 24 years. Since last November, I’ve also been the Direct Care Alliance’s newest direct care worker specialist.

In my work for the DCA, I’ve been contacting state associations to find out how many have a leadership council. When I find one that does, I ask questions to find out how it works. I want to know if direct care workers make up their leadership council. How many people sit on the council? What kind of leadership program did they go through? I am looking at all fields of health care – hospitals, nursing homes, home health, direct support, private duty, CMA, etc.

I’m doing this survey because the Direct Care Alliance is creating a national leadership council made up of people who have graduated from the Voice Institute. We want representatives from each of the 50 states and from Washington, D.C., so if anyone has a problem or question about how things work in their state, they’ll be able to contact their leadership council representative for an answer.

So far, I’ve found four states that have councils — Iowa, Maine, Florida and Wisconsin. If you know of any others, please email me at

And please let me know if you or someone you know is interested in attending this year’s national Voices Institute. If you belong to a direct care worker association, ask the director to nominate you.

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