More than 300 healthcare workers, members of the disability community and allies gathered Tuesday at the Massachusetts State House to oppose new overtime restrictions for personal care attendants.
The restrictions went into effect Sept. 1 and cap the number of hours personal care attendants (PCAs) can work at 40 hours a week, and with some exceptions up to 60 hours a week. Advocates say this change could dramatically impact both the care that disabled people receive as well as the quality of life of workers.
"We're here because we think—with all due respect to the [Gov. Charlie Baker] administration—the PCA program helps people with disabilities obtain independence and also is an important source of work for a lot of otherwise low-income folks," said Bill Henning, executive director of the Boston Center for Independent Living.
Attendants make about $14 an hour, Henning said, with very little sick and vacation time and no included health insurance.
"A lot have to make a living by working extra hours," he said.
The Boston Center for Independent Living along with such entities as the Disability Policy Consortium, MetroWest Center for Independent Living, Mass Home Care, United Healthcare Workers East Union 1199 are seeking a compromise with the Baker administration for more flexible policies.
The Disability Policy Consortium has proposed a 66-hour threshold for overtime—which mimics what homecare workers can receive in California, Henning said—and asks that health officials delay the new regulations until January 1, 2017.
Disabled and elderly residents who rely on attendants for help with such daily tasks as bathing, dressing and eating are struggling to find replacement services to cover the extra hours of care they need, advocates said.
Many have relationships with their attendants, Henning added, and may be uncomfortable allowing another, new person into their home to take care of such intimate acts.
"I was just talking to a husband and wife with one attendant, both have significant disabilities, both are in the workforce, they have a 16-year-old son," Henning said. "[Their] one attendant works about 55 hours a week—they should now have two people come in? It sort of breaks up the family dynamic and continuity of care."
To those who want to reduce the restrictions on overtime, it's a win all around, Henning said: People get the services they need and attendants make enough money to support themselves.
The overtime management policy was meant to "ensure program sustainability, an Executive Office of Health and Human Services spokeswoman said in a statement. "OT management does not change or reduce the total number of PCA hours a member is authorized to receive. We have been working with all partners to ensure a smooth transition for MassHealth members.”
There are about 35,000 personal care attendants in Massachusetts and Henning said many of them are immigrants, single mothers and other low-income workers.
Disability advocates also fear these regulations could force patients into seeking more expensive care at institutions and nursing homes.
“Finding responsible PCAs who are trustworthy and willing to learn all the care I require is not easy. I’m quadriplegic and vent dependent, which makes my personal care more challenging,” said Barbara Rivero of South Boston. “I can’t move my body, I need PCAs to do everything for me, without them I wouldn’t be able to live independently, to be part of society, to go to college, appointments, or volunteer and visit and help others in similar situations."
Rivero said that it could take her "months and even years" to find reliable PCAs and that this regulation would force her current attendants to look for a second job.