No on I-1029: It harms those it claims to serve

I have dedicated my life to supporting those with developmental disabilities, first as a special education teacher and now as operator of a well-regarded adult family home. Initiative 1029 is the most harmful and offensive political action taken against people with disabilities in my lifetime.

For years, people with disabilities have worked to shake off damaging labels, to break away from institutional treatment, and to achieve acceptance and success in our communities. Concepts such as inclusion, supported employment, independence and self-directed care have led to a positive fundamental shift in how we care for and support those with disabilities.

The adult family home we operate for people with disabilities is based on these concepts. We provide a “shared living” environment in which everything is based on the wants, needs, choices and rights of everyone living here. This is their home and their community, a place where their dreams, and the dreams of their families, have been realized.

There are many homes like ours scattered around our state that define individuals not in terms of their disabilities, but as people first. Our approach recognizes the rights, abilities and opportunities that all people deserve in our society. Progress has been great and the future is promising.

Sadly, I-1029 threatens to undo that progress. The initiative forces a one size fits all, institutionally minded model on those of us working in the community for people with disabilities. It goes so far as to redefine all caregivers as “health homecare aides,” implying that people with disabilities are “sick.” This is exactly the type of prejudice we’ve spent many years fighting to overcome.

I-1029 prescribes a detailed, inflexible and medically driven training program for all caregivers. We don’t provide healthcare. The people we support aren’t sick. But homes like ours and our caregivers still would be required to go through this training, taking us away from those we support. The requirements are so unrealistic that our wonderful part-time assistant, a well-educated woman who works full time in another job for people with disabilities, would be required to take 75 hours of training that has nothing to do with our home and what we do, just so she can help us out a mere handful of hours per week. What’s more likely to happen is that she would be forced to give up her position, and the people we support would lose a great caregiver and close friend they’ve come to know and trust.

Recently, I was appointed to the Governor’s LTC Task Force Workgroup on Caregiver Training, which examined this issue closely. Our work was instructive, both for what we found and what we didn’t find.

We found that the National Conference of State Legislatures had identified Washington as one of three states that should serve as a model for innovative quality assurance methods. We learned from a Washington State University survey that the majority of in-home caregivers felt their current training adequately prepared them to do their jobs. We found that Washington’s current training delivery system is well aligned with a person-centered model that provides flexibility for consumers to accommodate for setting and individualized need.

What the Task Force did not find was any evidence of a need to significantly change our long term care training delivery system or data to suggest that the inflexible, one-size-fits-all training standard proposed by I-1029 would improve care.

As a result, when this issue came before the Legislature the last two sessions, lawmakers rejected the proposal as unnecessary, ineffective and too expensive, taking money away from critical social services.

Nevertheless, a large special interest group, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), has continued to use its money and political power to pursue a self-serving agenda. They want to write the rules and then get paid millions of taxpayer dollars by the state to deliver the training to their members. When they couldn’t convince our elected officials, they decided to spend at least $500,000 to develop this misleading proposal and put it before voters who don’t have the time to dig into the details the way the Legislature does.

Please, take the time to learn about I-1029 and how it impacts people with developmental disabilities. Everyone deserves respect, and to be treated as people first. I-1029 fails to do this.

Craig Fredrickson runs an adult family home in Kent.

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