Group home workers and people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (I/DD) gathered at the Capitol on March 7 to testify about the looming crisis in Oregon group homes. SEIU Local 503 released a report today titled “Broken Promises: Are Oregon Group Homes Failing People with Developmental Disabilities?” that outlines major problems in the industry and proposes policy solutions. The House Human Services Committee heard testimony on HB2684 and HB2685, which propose solutions to problems described in the report.
The Department of Human Services’ Office of Developmental Disability Services (ODDS) tracks hundreds of reports of abuse in group homes every year, including restraint and seclusion, sexual assault, and physical abuse resulting in serious injuries. Many of the substantiated abuse reports are categorized as neglect—a direct consequence of chronic short staffing driven by poverty wages for Direct Support Providers. Neglect reports include falls resulting in broken bones, failure to administer medication or administering the wrong medication, and medical neglect leading to seizures, overdose, and in multiple documented cases, death.
71% of all substantiated abuse claims submitted to the Office of Adult Abuse Prevention (OAPPI) between 2010 and 2015 occurred in group homes. Of the 306 cases substantiated in 2015, 41% either received no penalty or the State did not have information on the outcome. HB 2684 proposes stiffer penalties for substantiated abuse and whistleblower protection for frontline workers who report it.
“We need to protect whistleblowers because nobody reports abuse in group homes,” said Beverly Brinster, a former DSP from St. Helens. “If they do they will be fired. Officially, you can’t be fired for reporting, but they can fire you for no reason whatsoever, and it’s an ‘odd coincidence’ that it happens right after you reported something.”
Average pay in group homes starts just above minimum wage. As a result, group homes have a 90% turnover rate — the highest of any care sector in Oregon. High turnover is especially hard on people with I/DD who live in group homes and form close relationships with the people who provide assistance with activities like bathing and dressing. HB 2684 proposes a wage pass-through to stabilize the workforce by bringing DSP wages in line with industry standards for other care jobs.
“Even when there’s a regular shift change, it can be stressful for the people who live here,” said Ebony Friese, a DSP at a group home in Portland. “When it’s actually new staff coming in, it’s really difficult. It’s the consistency and the routine that makes people feel safe and more comfortable. Imagine if you constantly had to adjust to new people in your life, especially people you rely on for so many personal things.”
“Understaffing really affects care,” said Debbie Price, a DSP from Portland. Debbie describes the struggle to meet each person’s basic needs when group homes are understaffed: “I’ve had situations where I needed to get someone up and I couldn’t do it alone. I called management and they couldn’t come help me. I did get them up by myself but it took a long time and I nearly missed a medication dose.”
“Many times I am trying to give one client a shower, and for their privacy I am supposed to shut their door, but how can I shut their door when I have two other clients that are 1:1 supervision and I’m the only staff in the house? If another client is trying to get out the front door then I have to pull the first person out of the shower, they are dripping wet and I am trying to wrap a towel around them real quick so I can go chase the other person down the street. It’s not safe for anybody.”
Even though I/DD services for the 2,891 Oregonians who live in group homes are almost entirely publicly funded, there is minimum financial disclosure. It’s impossible to verify if public money is being spent as intended. HB 2684 would increase requirements for financial reporting to bring group homes in line with nursing homes.
“We fought hard and got a strong and fair contract. It would not have been possible without the support and participation of our CAP members. Their presence at negotiations, along with their ongoing solidarity in and outside the office, made the difference in leadership decisions.” Katy Byrtus, CAP bargaining team member
The bargaining team led members to take action in the worksite and came away with a great tentative agreement for workers. Members took part in many actions throughout bargaining including: letters to the Board of Directors, giving testimony at bargaining sessions, providing cookies and donuts (donated by VooDoo!) with bargaining messages to the Board, a week of daily delegations to the Executive Director, and regular attendance at bargaining sessions with an average of 15-20 members (out of a unit with only about 35 workers!). So, its no wonder they were able to secure an agreement that won for workers in their priority areas: COLAs, including a minimum wage cap of $15, equity and wage add-ons, and a committee to work on creating a more equitable salary calculator.
SEIU members at Oregon Supported Living Program unit recently settled a strong two-year agreement, with potential for more improvements next year.
Congratulations to the OSLP bargaining team: Shaun Notdurft, Danyel Johnson, Bruce Nealley, and Denise Garrett.
The modest wage increase will help the membership keep pace and will help offset the dental premium share. Congratulations to the OSLP team for winning a good agreement, even in the face of continuing budget issues with the agency.
Direct Support Providers (DSP’s) at Bethesda Lutheran Community Services are the front line of care and support for people with developmental disabilities in group homes. We help them get up in the morning, bathe, dress, and go to bed at night. We cook, clean, do the shopping, plan outings, and provide transportation, administer medications, and we watch for and respond to crises— behavioral, emotional, or medical.
We are often the only ones who know the realities of our supported individuals’ daily lives: their preferences, their hopes, dreams and fears. Despite our dedication, we rarely earn more than $11 per hour, and many Bethesda workers find it difficult to meet the needs of our supported individuals under current conditions.
Some of us have been retaliated against for reporting abuse or unsafe living conditions or for sustaining workplace injuries. We struggle with short staffing, inadequate supplies of food, and unreliable and sometimes dangerous facilities and equipment. Our deplorable working conditions are the living conditions of our supported individuals! We must have a real voice on the job.That’s why we are forming a union with SEIU local 503.
Bethesda Lutheran has hired an expensive union-busting consultant to coerce, intimidate, and threaten workers out of voting for their union. They are paying for the union busters with public funds that should go to direct services to people with disabilities.
Over the last two months, hundreds of SEIU Local 503 members have traveled to Salem to tell legislators to protect services, find ways to save money, and ensure that big corporations and banks pay their fair share. You now have the opportunity to tell them the same thing when they come to your local area.
The Ways and Means Committee is coming to an area near you for feedback and input. The budget they propose is one that breaks a promise to workers by cutting PERS and reduces funding for seniors and disability services, but keeps tax loopholes and expenditures for big business.
Come tell your legislators: We need to hold the big banks accountable, not slash vital services for children and seniors.
Friday, April 12 3:00-4:30pm
Ed Ragozzino Performance Hall, Lane Community College
4000 East 30th Avenue, Eugene
Saturday, April 13 10:00-11:30am
Music Recital Hall, Southern Oregon University
1250 Siskiyou Blvd, Ashland
Friday, April 19 4:30-6pm
William Healy Armory
875 SW Simpson Ave, Bend
Saturday, April 20 1:30-3:30
Auditorium, Hermiston High School
600 S 1st St, Hermiston
(Live link available in other eastern Oregon locations, details pending)
Tuesday, April 23 5:30-7:00pm
Moriarty Arts & Humanities Auditorium, Portland Community College, Cascades Campus
705 N. Killingsworth St., Portland
Thursday, April 25 5:30-7pm
Officers Mess, Port of Tillamook Bay
6825 Officers Row, Tillamook
This week, hundreds of SEIU 503 members from across Oregon took to the picket line to demand a change to the way Oregon does business.
Once again essential services for all Oregonians are on the chopping block as legislators attempt to balance the State budget on the backs of working people. Meanwhile, Oregon’s wealthiest and most profitable corporations continue to receive tax breaks—in fact, Oregon has the lowest corporate tax burden in the nation, tied with North Carolina. We cannot subsidize these corporations with the same tax dollars that should be going to our schools, healthcare and job creation.
Over 90 informational pickets where held at worksites throughout the state. Public workers carried signs, chanted and held conversations with passersby to share our priorities: preserving public services, allowing workers to retire with dignity, and holding bad actors accountable.
Keary DeBeck, an information specialist with the Department of Justice and co-chair of the bargaining team had this to say, “The deck may be stacked, but we know that there’s a better way forward. We’re using our collective bargaining power to advocate for all Oregonians: to recoup the money big banks stole from us, to stop out-of-control tax breaks for corporations, and to fund the vital services we all rely on. We’re all in it together for a better Oregon.”
Corporations and special interests would have everyone believe that the only answers is to continue to cut services for Oregonians, but SEIU 503 members have a different answer. We are advocating for:
Oregon’s chief budget writers have gone way too far in balancing the budget on the backs of seniors, public workers and those we serve.
This is a first draft budget, with revisions to come in the months ahead. There is still a window of opportunity for us to effect change, but we must act on it now. Click here to send a message to your legislator.
Some budget specifics:
Despite its serious flaws, the co-chairs’ recommended budget is an improvement on the governor’s budget, which was built on zero tax increases for big corporations and the wealthy and nearly $1 billion in illegal PERS “savings.” The co-chairs are exploring ideas SEIU members generated that create more efficiency in public services. They have also fought for improved funding for the services our members provide and for our schools.
This budget does not reflect Oregon’s priorities. We cannot let the legislature knuckle under to the big corporations like US Bank, Bank of America and Wells Fargo that are part of the group leading the attack on seniors and public employees.
But this is just a first draft budget, with revisions to come in the months ahead. There is still a window of opportunity for us to effect change, but we must act on it now. Click here to send a message to your legislator. If we don’t fight back now, things will only get worse.
About 400 members of SEIU Local 503 met in Eugene on Sunday, Jan. 27, to strategize around contract bargaining this year. After a welcome from President Rob Sisk, members heard from Executive Director Heather Conroy on “Our Strategy to Win” and from Political Director Arthur Towers on “Winning on Our Priorities Budget” in this legislative session.
A presentation of the “In It Together” team focused on historic wins in both the public-sector and care-provider sides and featured Rob Sisk as Gov. John Kitzhaber with participation by Marc Nisenfeld, Joy’e Willman, Joe Sheahan, Kim Cole, Patty Jones, Judy Byers and Carol Conlon.
Kristen Crowell, executive director of We Are Wisconsin, shared some political strategies to rebuild there in the wake of the unsuccessful recall of Gov. Scott Walker.
Following were sector breakouts to discuss a variety of bargaining proposals, with the conference wrapping up Sunday afternoon.
His proposal would hit wealthiest Oregonians the hardest by reducing by 5% the itemized deductions taxpayers could use. The Governor also reiterated his support for a 30% increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit which reduces taxes for low-wage families with kids.
The Governor made a brief presentation at the SEIU CAPE Council meeting, and then took a number of questions from union members.
Kitzhaber tackled the issue of PERS by explaining his decision to push for the reduction of cost-of-living adjustments for retirees who have above-average pensions, meaning those receiving more than $24,000/year. While stating that PERS is an “earned benefit” that workers have sacrificed to protect over the years, he was clear that he wants to balance the budget by, in part, reducing employer contributions to PERS.
This proposal, which would likely be found unconstitutional by the courts, creates a dangerous precedent of reducing promised benefit levels for workers who have earned those benefits and made the life decision to retire. The Governor thought this was a fair way to achieve significant savings to employers, but also stated his openness to other approaches. While he built in the continuation of the employer 6% pick up into the budget, he said that negotiations on this would be hard. The Governor also has pledged to end furloughs so that workers can get paid for a full year of work.
The Governor reiterated that health care is a much more significant cause of the state’s budget problems than PERS, and described his efforts to stop profiteering by the health care industry in order to pay for improved and expanded care for low-income Oregonians.
In response to questions regarding short-staffing, the Governor pointed to the proposal in his budget to hire 200 more workers to protect neglected and abused kids. Right now, two workers are trying to do the work of three in this area. The Governor also expressed support for increased staffing for care providers, especially in Employment Related Day Care, where he wants to expand subsidies to an additional 500 families. More than 2,000 SEIU members lost their jobs in 2011-12 in this field.
The Governor had a very strong response to issues around publicly-funded contractors engaging in union-busting, and expressed continued strong support for the right of workers to organize in emerging health care occupations like community health worker, and enhanced homecare worker positions.
Finally, the Governor was also very supportive of drivers’ licenses for non-citizens and for tuition equity for all Oregon high school graduates.
In the discussion after the Governor left, members expressed satisfaction, but some skepticism, with the Governor’s presentation and responses. There was a lot of positive response to increased funding for care providers, and for a progressive tax increase. There was also a general sense that the Governor showed union members a lot of respect and approached us as partners rather than adversaries. Clearly, there are going to be extremely tough fights with theGovernor in contract negotiations, and around PERS, but there were a number of areas of agreement as well.
The Marion County Employees Association (MCEA), a part of SEIU 503, has only had one mediation session with the Marion County Board of Commissioners bargaining team since reaching impasse on July 27. In a surprising and extremely disappointing move Monday, the Board of Commissioners voted to cancel the county employees’ contract, with no further attempt being made to meet with their workers.
Rather than return to the bargaining table to try and resolve the issues keeping the two sides from reaching an agreement, they have chosen to literally “walk away from negotiations.” These workers and their families deserve better and informational picketing continued Monday evening in front of the Commissioners’ Board where a meeting was taking place between the Board and the Transit District. When asked by an MCEA member, as Commissioner Sam Brentano entered the building, why they don’t want to come back to the bargaining table, his passing response was, “You’ll read about it in the paper tomorrow.”
At the same meeting that night, the County Board of Commissioners approved a $22.8 million contract to repair Courthouse Square, which was vacated two years ago due to a flawed structural design and failures in project oversight during its development.