Hello Nicole - April 1999

Dear Nicole,

For a long time now I’ve been having trouble finding Personal Care Attendants (PCAs). I can’t fill my hours and end up getting people who come once, then never again.  Sometimes people come for an interview and say they want to work full time but then never contact me again to get set up. I have to call the emergen­cy number of my PCA company just to get my basic needs met.  I have switched agencies a couple times thinking that might help, but so far the situation just gets worse and worse.  What PCA company do you recommend? I need a lot of hours and many agencies won’t  take my case because they don’t allow pay for overtime.  I am an intelligent person and am not that difficult to get along with!! But I am getting depressed and angry about my situation. I hate having to accept anyone into my home (no matter how untrust­worthy they look) just to be able to use the bathroom. It  feels like punishment for being in a chair! Is a nursing home the next step?

Sincerely,

Unfair

Dear Unfair,

There is a serious shortage of PCAs in the Twin Cities right now, so much so that it is rapidly becoming a crisis for many of us. I haven’t been able to find more than two reliable PCAs in the past 2 years and have had the same experience of people not showing up after a seemingly successful interview or PCAs not showing up for work.  And we aren’t the only ones. I can’t recommend switching your PCA company because they are all experiencing this same shortage of reliable workers. I think if your company is at least providing reliable emergency fill-in care that is an important consideration; not everyone does. Also, there are some agencies (but not many) that will allow overtime pay. The reason for this is because the state only pays a set rate for an hour of in-home care. This rate does not change to take into account overtime. So if your PCA makes $8 an hour and you add overtime (with taxes, etc) it leaves the agency not making a meaningful profit on your overtime hours. I have a lot of respect for any agency willing to pay overtime under these conditions.

Right now the Consortium of Citizens With Disabilities (CCD) is working with the legislature to address this shortage in the home care industry.  The CCD is proposing an increase in pay to all in-home direct care workers, meaning Personal Care Attendants, Home Health Aids and Certified Nursing Assistants. It’s really important that we all write letters to the legislature and explain what the PCA program means in our lives, problems we are having with the current system (i.e. shortage of workers) and what  we  think needs to be done to alleviate the problem (i.e. increase  in  hourly wage to attract and  keep quality people).  Remember that most of the legislators have very little idea of what it’s like to have a disability or to rely on PCA help.

Explain briefly what your PCA does for you and how important this assistance is.  Also relay your need for better service and how the shortage of attendant care is affecting your life. Tell them that due to the employment shortage, overtime reimbursement should be taken into account. You don’t have to be a great let­ter-writer to write letters! Use your own words. It’s the message that matters. You don’t have to type letters.  Just remember to include your address/phone and keep letters to one page.

Contact as many of the following people as you are able. Some key people to contact are members of the Ways and Means Committee.  This committee sets the budget for healthcare: Rep. Loren Solberg (Bovey), 445 State Office Building, (All addresses are St.  Paul, MN  55155), Rep. Lyndon Carlson, 365 SOB, Rep. Kevin Goodno,  369 SOB,  Rep. Ron Abrams, 209 SOB, Rep. Matt Entenza, 421 SOB,  Rep. Tim  Finseth, 377 SOB, Rep. Mark Holsten, 345  SOB.  Commissioner Michael O’Keefe, Dept of Human Services, 444 Lafayette  Rd,  St. Paul,  MN 55155. Contact your representative, if you are unsure who  your representative is call the House Information line  651-296-2146. Also, send a note to Governor Ventura, The State  Capi­tol, St. Paul, MN 55155.

A nursing home does not have to be the next step for you or any of us.  However, it is a real threat when we can’t get enough help to live independently. Certified Nursing Assistants that work in nursing homes get paid more then they would if they worked in our homes. This outrage is due to the rich nursing homeowners who have a strong lobby in the legislature to keep Medi­care and Medicaid money. This is why our letters are so impor­tant.  We need to remind everyone that nursing home care is more expensive for the taxpayer and not an acceptable lifestyle for those of us who could live independently in our homes provided adequate home care service. It’s time the decision makers in Congress start to hear our voices, to understand our real needs and desire to live independently. Please write as many letters as you are able and urge your family and friends to write letters as well.  If legislators receive 5 letters from different individu­als, agencies, or employers this can make a HUGE difference.

— Nicole