By Jann Nyffeler
Copy and Content Specialist
It’s a banner day when Heritage Christian Services announces that all of its OPWDD care professionals start at $15 an hour, a 20% leap in pay, competitive with fast-food wages and immediately benefitting 1,661 employees. Additionally, our residential staff start at $15.75 with opportunity to work certain shifts to make even more. No experience is necessary to start. Paid training is provided. Nice benefits are available. That’s a good day.
And yet the truth of the matter is that regional providers like HCS are not supported by New York State to offer workers more than the current minimum of $12.50. According to Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute, 45% of care workers in New York live in or near poverty and 51% need public assistance. Compensation for care workers must increase.
Drew Bielemeier, senior vice president of operations, says, “There are 500 providers in our state just like us, but many — probably most — don’t have the resources and backing that we’ve been creating over the past five years. And this is the hardest truth: Even if Heritage Christian Services can have an impact on the situation, our peer providers are likely to continue to struggle, ultimately affecting the continuity and quality of care for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities — some of whom we also support.”
At Heritage Christian Services, we’ve taken a risk by increasing our wages and creating a model for elected officials and policy makers to study. Not only do people with disabilities rely on continuity of quality support but increasing wages for their staff helps care professionals with self-sufficiency, the chance to rise above poverty, and a reason to stay in the jobs they love.
With this wage adjustment, as our president and C.E.O., Marisa Geitner, says, “This is a journey, not a destination.” Our near-term aim is to bring people back to Heritage Christian Services who left us for higher wage-earning occupations, and to draw candidates to the field who never before considered working in direct support for minimum wage.
This is where you can help. Encourage our former employees to come back to jobs they love. And introduce the caring professions to people who’ve never considered working here.
Our investment in staff wages is a small step and comes with risk. We take that risk because we are backed by careful financial management, generous donors and stewardship of federal relief funds.
Drew says, “While we took the moment to celebrate our dedicated workforce last Thursday, let us never forget how far we have to go to achieve respect for care professionals and above-average wages, commensurate with the skills and contributions needed to be successful on the job.”
Let’s keep working. Together. Tell your elected officials to prioritize increasing wages for direct support workers. And welcome new people to the field. Those are the two best ways to advance continuity of support to people with disabilities and respect for care professionals.