Caregivers say their value goes beyond budget
FAIRFIELD — Nicole Neff is a self-described, perhaps even a bit of an obsessive, planner.
While pregnant with her first child, Neff planned out her daughter’s entire education, deciding on a K-12 program through the Vacaville Christian Schools with an eye on the future beyond that.
Intertwined with those plans were Neff’s own desires for a career, something she had worked toward since she was 16.
Now her career is her daughter. Rayna, who is nearly 9 years old, has autism, intellectual disabilities and Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome, a recessive genetic developmental disorder that has physical and well as associated learning and behavioral difficulties.
Neff is a member of Service Employees International Union Local 2015 (Region 4), which is negotiating with the Solano County Public Authority for a new contract. The union wants better pay and a bigger contribution for health coverage. The public authority is standing on an existing state-set rate.
Neff and other providers also are looking for respect.
“Technically, we are state employees and we should be treated as such. I want these people to respect what we do,” said Neff, referring largely to state legislators and other officials who establish the base reimbursement rate.
But she is also looking to the Solano County Board of Supervisors to show a level of respect by going beyond the state-set $12.10 hourly rate for wages and benefits.
“The county should set a precedent and show that they care and value what we do,” Neff said.
Several members of SEIU 2015 have been bringing their message to the Board of Supervisors meetings every week for a couple of months. One of the constants is the urging to look at the contract with their hearts and not just with an eye on the bottom line.
They have told the supervisors how they care for their own family members, as well as others in the community – many of whom are wholly dependent on them for their care. They talk about the physical toll the work takes, as well as the special skill sets that are needed.
“This is a value issue the way I look at it,” said Jon Riley, executive director of the Napa-Solano Central Labor Council. SEIU 2015 is one of 52 worker groups affiliated with the council.
Riley, who was a Vallejo firefighter for 25 years, recently told the board how in-home care providers are often the first contact for emergency service personnel responding to an incident.
While Riley thinks the solution to the problem will ultimately have to be found in Sacramento, he said he has not heard about any discussions to deal with the issue. In the meantime, he said he thinks the county needs to look at the caregivers as an asset, not a deficit.
Supervisor Jim Spering said at the most-recent board meeting that in-home care was never meant to be a singular profession garnering a livable wage. Instead, he said, it was intended as a kind of supplemental income for those who needed help to care for loved ones.
Spering has asked the county administration to come back with a report on the program.
Michael Weston, spokesman for the state Department of Social Services, said the Attendant Care Program was established in the 1950s as a way for people who needed assistance to be able to get state funding to help pay for it.
“The intention of the program was based on the recipient,” Weston said.
Workers assisting those assessed as severely impaired can charge for 283 hours each month. Caregivers contracted with others can charge up to 195 hours a month. There is an overtime element for those who qualify.
Still, members of SEIU 2015 contend many of their members are living in poverty, while saving the state and county millions if the people they care for had to be placed in public-funded care centers.
David Pak, chief negotiator for the Solano County Public Authority and employment relations manager for the county, concedes the costs of placing these people in care centers would “over-tax” facility and financial resources in the county. He further said he doubts there are enough beds available to meet those demands.
Reach Todd R. Hansen at 427-6932 or firstname.lastname@example.org.