Tennessee must pay for passion

Johnson City Press • Feb 4, 2020 at 7:00 AM

A society that does not properly care for its most vulnerable citizens is no society at all.

It’s no wonder that Dawn of Hope Development Center, Johnson City’s nonprofit organization serving adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, has trouble keeping direct support professionals. These highly trained folks provide essential, personally challenging services, yet they are compensated at non-skilled levels.

As Senior Reporter Robert Houk reported in Sunday’s edition, the job pays just $10 per hour. That’s amid a competitive job market in which lesser-trained employees with fewer responsibilities usually pull down $14 per hour or more. Thus, Dawn of Hope has a whopping turnover rate of 45% for new hires. The local agency is operating with 140 direct support professionals, but needs another 35 to keep up with the demand of its clients.

Their duties often include feeding, bathing and dispensing life-sustaining medication to the people they serve.

We cannot expect people to do such demanding work for so little.

Tennessee Community Organizations — an umbrella association representing Dawn of Hope and dozens of other agencies providing support and care to more than 10,000 Tennesseans — is requesting the state increase that pay. Steve Cox, Dawn of Hope’s chief executive officer, says the job should pay at least $15 per hour to attract and keep people in the positions.

Cox used the word “passion” to describe what it takes to be a direct service professional. We agree. Anyone with a special needs family member can attest to the emotional and sometimes physical toll involved.

Even at $15 per hour, those who take on the job would do so not for the money but out of dedication to people in need.

The Tennessee General Assembly should do the right thing by its citizens with intellectual and developmental disabilities by providing them with qualified, dedicated and experienced caregivers who will stay in the job.

Passion won’t put food on the table, pay the rent or send the kids to college.

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