Suzanne is an experienced health care provider and has worked for ARC of Blackstone Valley (ARC) for 21 years. Suzanne works with individuals who have developmental disabilities and their families. She was on the picket line Wednesday afternoon because this year she received a raise, her first in five years, of twenty-five cents an hour. Suzanne still doesn’t make $12 an hour.
The state increased funding for direct care workers, with the intention that some of that funding would go to the staff. Low wages lead to high turnover in the field and diminishes the quality of care. Jack Padien, the CEO of ARC makes eight times what the direct caregivers make. In 2014 that was $185 thousand, according to SEIU 1199, who represents the direct care workers. Chief Operating Officer Kathy Hunt makes six times more than the average direct care provider, over $155 thousand a year. Both received significant raises this year.
“For us who work with [the patients] every day we are many times an extension of their family but to management we are all just dollar signs,” said Marie Carroll, who works at the ARC and lives in Pawtucket, “Instead of investing funds from the state intended for increasing quality care in us who are actually providing services, management keeps giving themselves thousands of dollars in raises to their six-figure salary.”
In Rhode Island private providers such as the ARC have experienced an average turnover rate of 33 percent, according to numbers compiled by the Rhode Island Senate. This situation is sure to be exasperated with Massachusetts signing a contract with home care workers to ensure a $15 minimum wage by July of 2018.
“I love my job and the folks I’ve worked for the past 16 years at ARC,” said Jenn Desautel, “For myself and many of my co-workers who have worked here for decades our consumers are like family to us. This month I have to choose between paying rent and giving my small children presents and a meal.”
RI State Senator Lou DiPalma announced his intention to introduce legislation to phase in pay increases for direct caregivers over time until the goal of $15 is reached. State Representatives Jean Phillipe Barros and Mary Messier were at the informational picket to show their support, as was newly elected Pawtucket City Councilor Meghan Kallman.