The value/necessity of taking care of all

In 2008, three Americans traveled across Egypt. They visited city slums and rural towns, eating elaborate meals andconversing with locals. On their way out of Egypt the travelers stopped at a Bedouin village, the home of a tour guide who had taken them up Mount Sinai. In the desert, near a town called St. Catherine’s, dozens of men, women and children joyfully crowded the travelers’ taxi where they were handing out vitamins, shoes and toys.

In 2008, three Americans traveled across Egypt. They visited city slums and rural towns, eating elaborate meals andconversing with locals. On their way out of Egypt the travelers stopped at a Bedouin village, the home of a tour guide who had taken them up Mount Sinai. In the desert, near a town called St. Catherine’s, dozens of men, women and children joyfully crowded the travelers’ taxi where they were handing out vitamins, shoes and toys.

Just as their gifts were running out, a Bedouin woman wrapped in black linen across her face motioned one of the travelers toward her. She led that traveler—who was me—past stone huts, chickens and goats to a schoolyard, with a few books in the dirt. There I saw a grown boy, obviously developmentally disabled, and the woman pointed to his bare feet. I took the boy, stumbling and covered in saliva, to the taxi to find him a pair of shoes, but by that time none were left.

Even these villagers—in one of the most primitive of communities—understand the value and necessity of caring for their most vulnerable citizens, even if society as a whole is struggling. A good society is measured on how the disabled and other needy groups are prioritized. Minnesota has been a shining example in the area of social services, but if Gov. Tim Pawlenty cuts funding
for the care of the disabled, thousands of vulnerable people will experience a dramatic and dangerous diminishment in the quality of their lives.

Governor Pawlenty’s proposed cut to disability services is three percent, which is inline with what was proposed in the now-rejected MN House of Representative’s Health and Human Services Funding Bill. The governor, who is now solely responsible for fixing the Budget, also wants to increase licensing fees in this area.

Because of the recession, every sector of society fears possible tax increases or budget cuts. Many much needed programs will be negatively affected, not just in social services, but the proposed cuts to disability programs does not make sense. Why is this sector receiving the bulk of proposed social services cuts? Why is there an inequality between nursing home cuts—which are zero—and disability cuts?

In order to adjust to a decrease of $72 million in disabilities services, companies such as Phoenix Residence, which has 18 homes, may have to cut worker hours and house budgets. The implications of this are huge. As a support professional with Phoenix, I believe Governor Pawlenty and those who are helping him make budget decisions must understand the danger of doing this to Minnesota’s most vulnerable adults.

A cut in funding will eliminateopportunities for Phoenix residents to learn life skills and achieve personal development. These include counseling, learning to use electronic speaking devices, and providing opportunities for residents to work and find meaning in their lives.

When funding is cut, hours are cut and staff is forced to do more with less time. There is no time for teaching residents how to care for themselves with such activities like hand-overhand feeding or face washing. There is no time to do daily stretching to prevent residents’ limbs from stiffening.

Safety and health measures such as frequent hand washing, checking on residents, labeling food and cleaning houses will be neglected. More errors in medication passing could occur also, especially in houses that have over a dozen different medication times and residents who take upwards of 32 different medications.

Doctor appointments get pushed back, because house budgets are too low to pay over time to staff for staying at home and attending appointments with residents during the day. Wages in this sector are unequal to the responsibilities of this job already, which weaken worker morale to the detriment of the residents. Not being able to pick up more hours only worsens this.

Finally, my ability to be focused and gentle with my residents is strained. In a shift, I bath two residents and feed and clean for a total of four. I can get through two loads of laundry, fill a dishwasher and sweep a floor in a hurry, but I cannot clean oozing sores on a man’s bottom without being aware of him as a person—not just as a task. I cannot undress a woman, lift her into a shower and help her wash her hair and body without talking her through it. More than “caregiver,” I am a guest in my residents’ homes and a helper they need to rely on.

My residents may never go without shoes, like the Egyptian boy I met last summer, but they will go with less personalized care, untimely appointments, fewer outings, and no life skills development if the budgets they depend on are slashed. They cannot pull themselves up or work more to replace cut funding. Their legislators and society must do that for them.

– Tiffany Corrine Dow, St. Paul

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