Proposition B is about better home care for seniors and the disabled

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Eighteen years ago, I was in a car accident on the day after Thanksgiving and was paralyzed from the neck down. My life changed forever.

If you had told me before my accident that I would be in an accident and be paralyzed, I probably would have told you that I would prefer to have died.

I was a fiercely independent person. I worked as a manager of a convenience store and chased after a 3-year-old daughter.

But thanks to the help of family and friends and crucial support from a Missouri program that helps people with disabilities and senior citizens live independently at home, I am proud to say that I live a busy and productive life.

Missouri voters will decide on the direction of this program in the upcoming election when we vote on Proposition B, the proposal to create a Quality Home Care Council.

This program helps elderly and disabled Missourians remain independent by paying a personal care attendant to help us with daily tasks like bathing, dressing, cooking and cleaning.

But a serious challenge facing this program is high turnover among personal-care attendants. These jobs pay very little, and raises are rare. There are no benefits. So it's no surprise that many people who are caring and dedicated to this work find that they can't stay in these jobs because they need more stable work.

I'm extremely fortunate because I've had the same attendant for 14 years. With her help, I hold down a job and stay involved in my community.

But I know of many other disabled Missourians who are constantly looking for a new attendant because there is so difficult to recruit and retain someone.

I strongly support Proposition B because by it would empower home-care consumers like me and our attendants to give more structure to this program. We would create a statewide registry of prescreened attendants. We would improve training for workers.

It would also give personal-care attendants the freedom to form an organization to advocate for improved jobs and quality care.

A handful of opponents, including the nursing home industry, are making misleading and just plain false claims to attack the proposal.

For example, it has been claimed that Proposition B would force caregivers to form a union and pay dues if only 10 percent of the attendants want to form a union.

Here's what the proposition would really do: If 10 percent of home-care workers statewide sign a petition in favor of starting an organization for caregivers, a vote would be held so all of the workers could decide for themselves by majority vote about whether to form a union.

If they did vote to form a union, they would then negotiate a contract agreement and decide for themselves about their dues policy. Home-care workers would then vote again on whether to approve their contract and the dues policy they negotiate.

The work that these attendants do is not glamorous and often very hard. But I have seen firsthand how their work has made life better for me and for thousands of other Missourians. Personal care attendants deserve the freedom to speak out together and they deserve a voice about their future.

By passing Proposition B, Missourians would be following a path of proven success. A number of other states — including Washington, Wisconsin and Michigan — have established similar home care councils and succeeded in reducing worker turnover. Studies have shown that consumers' satisfaction has improved after a council was established.

Home care has the added benefit of saving taxpayers money because it costs far less to provide care at home instead of moving people into institutions or nursing homes.

The demand for home care services in Missouri is going to increase dramatically in coming years as the boomer generation ages and more people need long term care.

Currently, most of Missouri's long-term care funding goes to nursing homes. By expanding access to home care and training more home care workers, we'll be able to control the costs of providing long term care.

I'm living proof of the benefits of quality home care provided by a skilled personal attendant. More people deserve the support I've been able to count on. That's why I urge you to help more Missouri families get access to home care by voting yes on Proposition B.

Kathy Alexander of Bourbon, Mo., is a member of Missourians for Quality Home Care.

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