The Journal Gazette
Friday, April 30, 2021 1:00 am

An investment in our most vulnerable

Professional caregivers' pay hike money well spent

Allison Wharry

The new, two-year state budget just approved by the General Assembly and supported by Gov. Eric Holcomb includes a provision that will greatly improve the lives of the 40,000 Indiana residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their caregivers.

New Hope of Indiana applauds lawmakers for including higher rates of Medicaid reimbursement, which translates to higher wages for direct support professionals, in the final budget.

Direct support professionals provide vital support to individuals with disabilities, helping them live their best lives.

Not only do they help with daily activities, they also offer friendship and help those they serve reach their goals.

Their support can give family members of those with disabilities a chance to take a break, go to work or school, or care for their other children.

 The Indiana Association of Rehabilitation Facilities, ARC of Indiana and advocates including New Hope have been fighting for years to get higher wages for those who care for Hoosiers with disabilities. Under the measure approved by both the House and Senate, the statewide average direct support professional wage would increase to about $15 an hour for experienced professionals.

More than a third of direct support professionals leave the field each year – even though most say they want to stay in these important jobs. They just can't afford to.

On average in Indiana, direct support professionals make $11.31 an hour or an annual salary of $23,524.

It's become even more difficult to recruit and retain workers during the pandemic. When much of the world shut down as a result of COVID-19, frontline direct support professionals kept coming to work every day during an incredibly stressful time.

They took on new responsibilities and precautions to try to keep the vulnerable individuals they serve safe from the virus.

These caregivers worked around the clock to assist their clients with important daily tasks such as medication administration and personal care.

They got up to speed on the latest technologies to adapt to a new world of virtual therapies and other telehealth services for their clients.

For some, it was too much to do for jobs that kept them below the poverty level.

The legislature's approval of higher wages, combined with New Hope's attractive benefits package, will help us and other organizations better recruit and retain these essential frontline workers. By attracting and retaining the best caregivers to the field, we will provide more stability for our state's most vulnerable residents. That's money well spent.

Allison Wharry is CEO of Indianapolis-based New Hope of Indiana, which provides services for individuals with disabilities, counseling for families in the child welfare system and advocacy efforts.

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