UPCAP recognizes contributions by in-home direct care workers

Guest column

Since the COVID-19 crisis began much has been said and written about the heroism displayed by the frontline health care workers across the country. They truly deserve our thanks and admiration. But the often forgotten and underappreciated direct care workers, or DCWs, also deserve that same thanks and recognition. Direct care workers are underpaid, hard-working and extremely dedicated individuals who provide critical, life-sustaining essential services to the many older, frail and physically challenged individuals who want to remain in their own homes.

During the COVID crisis, these workers have continued to serve the vulnerable, at-risk individuals in their homes, despite the risk and stress.

In recognition of the heroic work that direct care workers have performed before and during the COVID crisis, the Upper Peninsula Commission for Area Progress, or UPCAP, is donating $150,000 to provide a $500 stipend to the 300 in-home workers serving homebound MI Choice clients throughout the Upper Peninsula. Although this is a small token of appreciation, UPCAP, a regional charitable non-profit organization, is hopeful that additional state and federal funding will soon be provided to local agencies to further reward in-home workers for their efforts during the COVID crisis.

“The DCWs that work for local agencies who provide services to UPCAP’s MI Choice clients deserve the upmost recognition and thanks particularly during this very challenging time,” said Jonathan Mead, UPCAP president and CEO.

Likewise, all direct care workers –whether they work for Community Mental Health agencies, home and health care agencies, and other human services providers — deserve recognition and support. COVID-19 has exposed both the importance of direct care workers and the underlying systemic flaws in how we support these individuals.

“On a daily basis, we’re witnessing what happens when workers, responsible for the care of our most vulnerable residents don’t have access to health and paid-leave benefits, can’t afford essential services like child care, and lack quality training,” Mead said.

The two top reasons that direct care workers want to continue in their current jobs are the desire to care for others and feeling good about doing so. DCWs — nurse aides, home health aides and personal and home care aides — are the primary providers of paid hands-on care for more than 13 million elderly and disabled Americans. They assist individuals with a broad range of support, including preparing meals, helping with medications, bathing, dressing, mobility and getting to planned activities on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, direct-care workers typically receive very low salaries, garner few benefits, and work under high levels of physical and emotional stress. “This needs to change and change quickly,” Mead stressed. The direct care workforce is shrinking at a time when our population is getting older and needs are increasing. In the Upper Peninsula, the fastest growing age group are individuals over the age of 75. Many of these individuals, as they age in place, may need the services of a direct care worker.

Direct care workers must have the strength to care for others, the commitment to remain involved in continuing education and the compassion to provide hands-on care. They are the experts at knowing what persons with disabilities and elderly individuals want and need, and they always respond to both.

Their service and dedication are exemplary and their role in enhancing the lives of others is vital. They make it possible for individuals to live meaningful lives in their homes and communities and remain connected to their families.

Next time you see or meet a direct care worker in your community, please tell them, “Thank you for doing what you do!”


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