Archive for May, 2009

Video Highlights from the DCA’s Trip to DC

Posted by on May 27th, 2009 at 6:21 pm | 1 Comment »

In our effort to tell the story of direct care workers, we did some filming during our April trip to Washington to talk to legislators about direct care worker issues.

Here’s the first one:

Gerontologist Reports on CNA Characteristics and What Causes Turnover

Posted by on May 27th, 2009 at 6:01 pm | Comments Off on Gerontologist Reports on CNA Characteristics and What Causes Turnover

the-gerontologist-april-2009-coverThe April issue of The Gerontologist reports on several important studies about direct care workers, starting with the long-anticipated National Nursing Assistant Survey (NNAS).

A paper about the survey, which is based on data from 2004, says it represents “a major advance in the data available about CNAs in nursing homes.” The report lists some of the survey’s major findings and suggests that the data be used for “evidence-based policy, practice, and applied research initiatives to address the CNA workforce shortage and to improve recruitment and retention efforts.”

Among the findings of the NNAS:
• Almost half of all CNAs are members of a minority group;
• Their median hourly wage was $10.04, and almost two-thirds lived on an annual family income of less than $30,000; and
• More than 40% did not participate in their employer’s health insurance plan because they couldn’t afford the premiums.

The April Gerontologist also looks at the causes of high CNA turnover rates from two different angles.  

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Celebrate National Nursing Assistants Week June 11-18

Posted by on May 27th, 2009 at 2:56 pm | Comments Off on Celebrate National Nursing Assistants Week June 11-18

nncna-logoThe 32nd annual National Nursing Assistants Week will be held this year from June 11-18.

For a detailed description of the purpose and elements of this year’s celebration and information on how to participate, visit the National Network of Career Nursing Assistants website.

A planning guide and PR kit can be downloaded from the website for a fee.

HHS Secretary Sebelius: “It is Our Goal to Improve the Attractiveness of Caregiving Jobs”

Posted by on May 27th, 2009 at 2:40 pm | Comments Off on HHS Secretary Sebelius: “It is Our Goal to Improve the Attractiveness of Caregiving Jobs”
Kathleen Sebelius

Kathleen Sebelius

The new head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) expresses her appreciation for direct care workers and pledges her determination to improve their jobs in a May 18 letter to the Washington Post.

In her letter, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius calls direct care workers “the backbone of our long-term care system,” adding: “Their compassion and work is invaluable to individuals, their families and our society.”

“The Department of Health and Human Services is deeply concerned about the needs of long-term care workers and maintaining an adequate and high-quality workforce,” Sebelius writes. “It is our goal to improve the attractiveness of caregiving jobs and reduce worker turnover. Ultimately, this will result in improvements in the quality of life and care of disabled and older Americans.”

The letter was published in response to “Marilyn Daniel’s Reward,” the May 10 cover story of the Washington Post magazine.

Elise Nakhnikian
Communications Director
Direct Care Alliance

DCA Asks Senate Finance Committee to Support Direct Care Worker Health Care Reform Priorities

Posted by on May 27th, 2009 at 1:49 pm | Comments Off on DCA Asks Senate Finance Committee to Support Direct Care Worker Health Care Reform Priorities
Leonila Vega

Leonila Vega

The Direct Care Alliance is working hard to ensure that the voices of workers and their allies are heard in the debate on health care reform.

As you already know if you’ve been reading our newsletter or blog, we went to Washington last month to talk to legislators and key committee staff. We asked them to make sure their health care reform bill includes health care coverage for all direct care workers. We also told them that we can’t have true health care reform without labor protections, training, career advancement opportunities and other job improvements for direct care workers.

We’ve also sent letters to President Obama (PDF) and U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, (PDF)  asking them to support direct care workers and improve direct care jobs.

Our latest letter (PDF) went out to the Senate Finance Committee on May 15. It was a response to a call for comments from the committee, which wants input on the health care reform legislation it is working on. The committee wanted input on two documents describing policy options: Expanding Health Care Coverage: Proposals to Provide Affordable Coverage to All Americans (PDF) and Transforming the Health Care Delivery System: Proposals to Improve Patient Care and Reduce Health Care Costs (PDF).

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Direct Care Workers Help Get 37 Congressional Signatures on Letter to Labor Secretary Solis

Posted by on May 26th, 2009 at 8:50 pm | 1 Comment »
Jenn Craigue
Jenn Craigue

Last month I visited Washington, DC, along with other members of the Direct Care Alliance board, graduates of the DCA’s first Voices Institute class, and  other DCA staff and allies. We introduced ourselves to legislators and their staff and to asked for two things— and one of them has already happened.

One of our two main “asks” was that the legislators sign a Dear Colleague letter. The DCA worked with the House Labor and Working Families Caucus to circulate the letter, which asked U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis to change the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to include home care workers.

The Dear Colleague letter was sponsored by the three co-chairs of the Caucus: Representatives Linda Sánchez, Michael Michaud, and Stephen Lynch. They sent it to their colleagues in the House just before we got there, asking them to sign it. In our visits, we also urged members of Congress to sign. The final letter (PDF) went to Secretary Solis last week.

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Lieutenant Governor Thanks Oklahoma Personal Care Attendants

Posted by on May 22nd, 2009 at 5:06 pm | 2 Comments »
From left: Tana Parrott, Program Supervisor, OKDHS; Lance Robertson, Aging Service Division Director, OKDHS; Michelle Volpe, PCA of the year; and me.

From left: Tana Parrott, Program Supervisor, OKDHS; Lance Robertson, Aging Service Division Director, OKDHS; Michelle Volpe, PCA of the year; and me.

The lieutenant governor of Oklahoma spoke about the importance of personal care attendants, PCAs told their stories on tape for an upcoming video documentary, and Michelle Volpe, Oklahoma’s Personal Care Assistant of the Year, was honored for her dedication, charity work, and heroism. It all happened on April 30 at Oklahoma’s second annual personal care conference.

This is the second year our state has sponsored the event, which was held in Norman. It’s a joint effort between the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS) and Medicaid home care agencies, intended to honor the best of Oklahoma’s caregivers.

I’ve led the team that creates the event both years. We see the conference as an opportunity to show our appreciation for the PCAs’ hard work. We also hope it helps remind home care agencies how important their PCAs are in delivering high-quality care.

Personal Care Assistant of the Year

Michelle Volpe was honored in part for what she did when she found a bedridden client in a locked bedroom having set her mattress on fire with a cigarette: With no time to call the fire department, she knocked down the door and carried the woman to safety.

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EWA Endorses Extending Federal Labor Protections to Home Care Aides

Posted by on May 13th, 2009 at 4:02 pm | 1 Comment »

eldercare-web_header1The Eldercare Workforce Alliance (EWA) has written to U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, asking her to correct a Department of Labor ruling that leaves home care workers without protection under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Twenty-five of the group’s 28 members endorsed the request. It was the first policy matter EWA has supported, other than endorsing the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommendations inRetooling for an Aging America: Building the Health Care Workforce and in S245, the Senate bill of the same name, which was drafted to enact recommendations made by the report.

In the Alliance’s press release about the letter, EWA co-convener Nancy Lundebjerg says: “The Alliance believes that an important part of improving the quality of care is ensuring the recruitment and retention of a quality workforce, which includes paying adequate wages to home care and other eldercare workers. Strengthening home care occupations can also drive long-term economic growth, particularly within low-income communities.”

“It is gratifying to see the variety and depth of support for fixing the overtime and minimum wage exclusion for home care workers coming from so many of the Elder Workforce Alliance members,” says Direct Care Alliance National Advocacy Director Roy Gedat. “The Direct Care Alliance is thankful for the support of the EWA for an issue that is our number one priority.”

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Washington Post Cover Story Asks Why Home Care Workers Stay

Posted by on May 11th, 2009 at 11:56 pm | 3 Comments »
Marilyn Daniel (R) helps Classie Morant prepare for her sister's funeral. Ms. Daniel had helped Ms. Morant care for her sister.

Marilyn Daniel (R) helps Classie Morant prepare for her sister's funeral. Ms. Daniel had helped Ms. Morant care for her sister.

Marilyn Daniel’s Reward,” the cover story of Sunday’s Washington Post Magazine, gives readers an up close and personal view of one compassionate home health aide and her work.

Author Paula Span makes clear the skills and sensitivity that make Marilyn Daniel good at her work, as well as the many services she provides. Span also  interviews some of Daniel’s clients, her employer, and a variety of experts and advocates to answer the central question posed in the story’s subhed: “She works long hours for low wages as a home health aide — a job so demanding and underappreciated that others leave in droves. So why hasn’t she?”

DCA Executive Director Leonila Vega amplifies that question with her quote: “You can be a home care worker for 20 or 30 years and never receive a meaningful wage increase, never get a promotion. You could become an expert in working with people with physical disabilities or Alzheimer’s; yet you never receive any recognition for your increased learning and experience.”

Span, who has a book on the subject coming out next month, notes that “finding reliable, compassionate caregivers to help keep seniors in their homes isn’t easy, even in these miserable economic times,” in part because of poor pay and benefits. But her detailed and insightful portrait also makes it clear why caring people like Daniel find home care work so rewarding.

To voice your support for home care workers like Marilyn Daniel, take a moment to visit the DCA’s Legislative Action Center and ask U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis to include them in the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Elise Nakhnikian
Communications Director
Direct Care Alliance

DCW Helps Fight Proposed Cuts to Critical Disability and Aging Services in Minnesota

Posted by on May 11th, 2009 at 11:05 pm | 2 Comments »
Bridget Siljander

Bridget Siljander

“Bridget Siljander calls them the ‘invisible workforce.’ Without them, though, the fallout will be starkly clear,” begins a story that ran last week in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune,  one of the biggest papers in my state.

The advocacy work that led to my being quoted was fueled by my participation in the Voices Institute National Leadership Program, so it seemed appropriate that I was en route to New York City to meet with the rest of the program’s training team when I received a call from the Star Tribune’s Gail Rosenblum. She was writing a story about the personal care attendance program, and when she told two of Minnesota’s strongest advocates for people with disabilities — Anne Henry of the Minnesota Disability Law Center and Anni Simons of The Arc of Minnesota — that she wanted to talk to a personal care attendant, they sent her to me.

I was more than happy to share the positive side of personal care work, a profession that has been denigrated in recent months in my state of Minnesota. I told Gail that the contribution of personal care attendants to society is tremendous, and she clearly understood what I and the others she had talked to were saying. Her article provided a balance to very negative press for personal care attendants that has run rampant this year.

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Putting the DC in the DCA: Advocating for the FLSA Fix and Our Health Care Reform Principles

Posted by on May 4th, 2009 at 8:31 pm | 8 Comments »
Students and instructors of the first Voices Institute National Training were among the advocates at the DCA legislative visits.

Students and instructors of the first Voices Institute National Training were among the advocates at the DCA legislative visits.

The co-chairs of the Congressional Labor and Working Families Caucus have endorsed the Direct  Care Alliance’s position that home care workers are entitled to minimum wage and overtime protection.

The DCA is spearheading an effort by Linda Sánchez, Michael Michaud and Stephen Lynch, who are urging their colleagues in Congress to sign onto a letter asking U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis to end the exclusion of home care workers from the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Teams of Direct Care Alliance constituents from around the nation — half of them direct care workers and the rest elders, people with disabilities, employers, and other advocates — visited Capitol Hill last week, asking Members of Congress to sign the  Dear Colleague letter. The DCA teams also asked legislators and key committee staff members to support the Direct Care Alliance’s Health Care Reform Principles, which call for improvements to direct care jobs.
“We will not achieve health care reform until America’s elders and people with disabilities are sure of receiving the direct care services they need when they need them, delivered by a qualified worker,” the principles state. “And that will happen only when direct care workers receive family-sustaining wages, adequated training, health insurance, and other elements of a good job, making direct care a viable career option.” Continue reading »

My Trip to DC with the DCA: A CNA’s Report

Posted by on May 4th, 2009 at 7:03 pm | 1 Comment »
John Booker (R) takes shelter from the rain with fellow DCWs Ray Erickson and Julie Moulton.

John Booker (R) takes shelter from the rain with fellow DCWs Ray Erickson and Julie Moulton.

It was raining in Washington, D.C on April 29, 2009. I was soaked from my head to my toe, but I was enjoying it all.

Not because I liked being wet, but because my colleagues and I were preparing for our fourth appointment of the day with members of the Senate. I was happy because the water that was on my face and in my ears and eyes was helping to disguise the tears of joy and pride that I was shedding that day for being a member of the Direct Care Alliance.

I was so proud to walk in that rain with employers, consumers, and workers — all advocates, all speaking with one voice and all caring the banner of the Direct Care Alliance, an organization that direct care workers all over the country are now calling their number one advocate. Continue reading »

My Trip to DC with the DCA: A Home Care Worker’s Report

Posted by on May 4th, 2009 at 6:06 pm | 3 Comments »
L to R: DCA board member Dennis Fitzgibbons, Helen Hanson, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, Julie Moulton

L to R: DCA board member Dennis Fitzgibbons, Helen Hanson, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, Julie Moulton

I just got back from a trip to DC with the Direct Care Alliance. It was a great start to achieving the FLSA rule change and to achieving health care reform that keeps direct care workers in the conversation. I think we started something that will just get bigger and keep raising awareness.

What is unique is that the Direct Care Alliance is having us workers talk to members of Congress. They need to hear from us – not the policy experts or service providers, but the hands on, day-to-day workers. I never would have thought a couple of years ago that I’d be on Capitol Hill, talking with my congressional delegation about my job and the tough work issues I and my fellow workers face every day. The DCA has made that possible for me.

I got the opportunity to personally thank Congresswoman Linda Sanchez and Congressman Mike Michaud for sponsoring our “Dear Colleague” letter to Secretary of Labor Solis. I am so honored that I got the chance to do that.

But the highlight of the visit for me was getting to talk with Congresswoman Chellie Pingree herself. Congresswoman Pingree was very supportive of the workforce and agreed direct care workers need to be included in health care reform. She also wanted to know more about the FLSA. She sounded as if she’ll probably sign the letter. We encouraged her to talk to her congressional colleagues about the FLSA, and we’ll do some follow-up with her.

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EWA Endorses Health Care Workforce Bill

Posted by on May 1st, 2009 at 2:29 pm | Comments Off on EWA Endorses Health Care Workforce Bill

retooling-for-an-aging-america-report-coverThe Eldercare Workforce Alliance (EWA) has unanimously endorsed The Retooling the Healthcare Workforce for An Aging America Act.The bill was created to implement some of the recommendations of a 2008 Institute of Medicine report, Retooling for an Aging America: Building the Health Care Workforce, which concluded that America’s physicians, nurses, direct care workers and other health care professionals are ill-prepared to care for the rapidly growing number of older adults in the U.S.

While most of the bill’s focus is on other parts of the health care workforce, it would expand training for nurses’ aides, home health aides and other direct care workers. It would also better prepare family caregivers to care for their aging loved ones.

The bill is sponsored by Senators Herb Kohl (D-WI), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and by Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).

The Direct Care Alliance is a member of EWA, which is a coalition of 28 national organizations representing older adults and the healthcare professionals, direct care workers, and family caregivers who care for them.

EWA’s press release about the endorsement

Elise Nakhnikian
Communications Director
Direct Care Alliance

Reports Detail Health Care Gaps and Recommend Fixes for NY Home Care Workers

Posted by on May 1st, 2009 at 1:44 pm | Comments Off on Reports Detail Health Care Gaps and Recommend Fixes for NY Home Care Workers

phi-ny-health-care-report-coverwith-borderTwo new reports analyze the low rate of health care coverage among personal and home care aides in New York state and recommend ways to improve the situation.

Health Insurance Coverage of New York’s Home Care Aides: Findings from a 2008 Survey of Home Care Employers Outside New York City (PDF) reports on a survey of home care agencies in upstate New York and Long Island, where little was known about health care coverage rates. Unusually progressive state policies and high levels of unionization have historically given more home care workers access to affordable health care coverage in New York than in most parts of the United States, the report notes, but several factors have combined to decrease coverage rates in recent years.

Only a quarter of the aides in the agencies surveyed were enrolled in employer-sponsored health care plans. More than half the aides either worked for agencies that did not offer health insurance (25%) or did not meet their employer’s plan’s eligibility requirements (29%), which included long waiting periods and minimum weekly work hours. The remaining 21% were eligible for an employee health plan but were not enrolled, often because the cost was too high.

“As is evident from these reports, the home care workforce — which provides services to nearly a half-million New Yorkers — still lacks access to comprehensive, affordable coverage,” says Carol Rodat, PHI’s New York policy director, who coauthored both reports. “Although New York is to be commended for its leadership role in coverage, there is still no single approach that will cover all the home care aides; moreover, the current insurance patchwork leaves thousands either underinsured or uninsured.”

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Indiana Direct Care Workers Find Conference Theme: Our Brothers’ Keepers

Posted by on May 1st, 2009 at 10:41 am | 1 Comment »
John Booker

John Booker

Why do we direct care workers care about staffing and the future of our workforce?

There are so many issues involved in developing a qualified and professional long term care workforce that the fundamentals of why we are needed can sometimes get lost. So as we at the National Association for Direct Care Workers of Color and our sister organization, the Indiana Care Givers Association, began to think about a theme for our 2009 conference, we decided to go back to the basics.

We wanted to remind ourselves and others why there must be a stronger effort to recruit and retain direct care workers, even if means adjusting state and federal regulations or reimbursement rates.

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Direct Care Workers Organize Statewide Conference in Wisconsin

Posted by on May 1st, 2009 at 10:34 am | 1 Comment »
Tracy Dudzinski

Tracy Dudzinski

It is amazing how committed and resourceful direct care workers are when they put their mind to something.

As many of you know, I sit on the board of directors of The Wisconsin Direct Caregiver Alliance (WIDCA), which just held its first conference for direct care workers. The conference was a great success – our evaluation forms are full of comments like “I loved it all. I can’t wait until the next one” and “What a wonderful event. It is nice to be recognized for what I do.” And we direct care workers did it all.

It took several years and three committees for us to pull this conference together. The first two committees were made up of mostly professional people. They fizzled out, but we direct care workers on the board were committed to making the conference happen.

At the Voices Institute National Leadership Program last May, WIDCA Chair Jackie Merkel and I (I’m WIDCA’s vice chair) recruited two fellow direct care workers — Mary Ann Aker and Wendy Janus — to co-chair the planning committee. We chose Mary Ann because we work with her and know she is a get-it-done kind of person. We asked Wendy because she has a contagious energy. She was also highly recommended by Barb Wisnefski, the chair of the Wisconsin Long Term Care Workforce Alliance.

We were all determined to put on the conference, but we really had no idea how to proceed. We kept spinning our wheels and stalling out — until the DCA offered to have Bridget Siljander, one of their Direct Care Worker Specialists, help us organize the planning.

Bridget’s help was the kick start we needed to get going. She helped us make a plan and stay on track. I never realized before all the work that goes onto planning an event of this size. Let me tell you, I know now!

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