DISABLED CARE: Berkeley Faces Shortage Of Attendants
Berkeley "is in the midst of a critical shortage of attendants who help the disabled with everything from routine household chores to vital health care," the San Jose Mercury News reports. The shortage "has been building for years," due to low wages and an inefficient, decentralized referral process. Attendants' duties range from helping out "for just a few hours a day with household chores and errands" to comprehensive care for the seriously disabled, who rely on attendants "to prepare their meals, bathe them, shift their bodies to stave off bedsores and perform countless other tasks."
To The Rescue
Much of the burden caused by the shortage is being carried by the city-funded, nonprofit agency Easy Does It. The agency "provides emergency attendant care," and is currently "scrambl[ing] to answer more than 400 calls a month for help --almost twice the number the agency's budget allows." The city gives the agency $146,385 a year; it has been spending approximately $12,292 a month, according to Errol Johnson, the budget monitor for the city's program planning and budget department. Although Easy Does It has kept within budget, Johnson says in order for it to survive more money is needed: "The demand has increased, but the budget hasn't. They definitely need more funds."
Disabled people in the community say long-term solutions to the shortage depend "upon drawing more people into attendant care, training them to do the job and then linking them with those needing help." They suggest creating financial aid and other incentives "to encourage students to enter the field." Many think the ideal arrangement would be a "one-stop" nonprofit agency, such as Easy Does It, that would "train and recruit attendants, provide referrals and provide employment benefits to help attendants earn a living wage." Financing would come from a bond issue or public trust, which "could be tricky," but disabled activists said "they're not afraid to use their political muscle to reach that goal" (Squatriglia, 3/10).