Advocacy and Autism Awareness Month Collide

In honor of Autism Awareness Month, Hearts for Home Care is celebrating those living with Autism Spectrum Disorder and raising awareness on the issues they face every day.

26-year-old Grant Williams with father Bob.

Grant Williams is an active and intellectually curious 26-year-old living with autism, cerebral palsy, and was born with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). However, none of those diagnoses slow him down! “Grant isn’t a geriatric—he is energetic and needs to be able to go outside and engage in his environment daily. But he can’t do it alone—his cognitive and communication skills, plus his balance and coordination, prevent him from being fully independent,” Grant’s father, Bob Williams says. That’s where Grant’s home health aides come to his assistance.

Grant is part of the New Jersey Personal Care Assistant (PCA) program – a state-funded program that allows qualifying adults and seniors who may otherwise be relegated to full-time facility care (i.e. nursing home), to remain in their communities as independently as possible with assistance from home health aides (HHAs). This program assists individuals living with physical and developmental disabilities with daily activities like dressing, bathing, walking, and tasks that would otherwise be too difficult or too dangerous for the individual to perform alone. The PCA program has been a lifeline for the William’s family for the past five years and since COVID-19 hit and shut down Grant’s full-day program, care at home became even more vital to their family.

Grant with HHA Grace.

Bob also has his own permanent disability, and Grant’s HHA care was especially critical after Bob’s invasive back surgery all but incapacitated him in December. “Grant is a big guy — he’s about 5’11 and 175 pounds, so I can’t manage him with my own health issues, plus his,” says Bob. However, finding a home health aide for those who are qualified for the PCA program and authorized by their doctors for home health aide care still isn’t easy. Grant has had many aides leave for other industries and settings. Bob has seen a revolving door of aides and understands why it is so difficult for them to stay in the industry, even if they love what they do: “Aides who love their work tend to leave the industry to receive a higher education degree, or to find work in other settings like hospitals or nursing homes. At the end of the day, they can’t make fair wages in the home care field,” says Bob.

Bob has been an avid advocate for Grant throughout his life, ensuring he has the best care and opportunities possible. However, this past year Bob has jumped through hoops to ensure the safety of his son and those taking care of him. When his treasured aide Grace was having difficulty getting to and from Grant’s parents’ homes from her hometown of Camden due to public transportation issues stemming from COVID, Bob took it upon himself to drive Grace to and from her shifts. Now, Grace, like many of Grant’s former aides, has been reassigned to a new client closer to her home.

“It’s a revolving door of aides—and Grant’s ability to continue to learn and habilitate is affected. The workforce is thinning out—and COVID is making it more difficult for people to enter the home healthcare industry because of the dangers of the virus and the unsustainability of low wages in the field.”

Grant and Bob were recently featured in a Scripps Network piece highlighting these exact issues that have plagued state-funded home health programs for years and have only been exacerbated due to COVID-19.

Scripps Network piece shedding light on the demand for home health aides across the country ─ featuring Bob and Grant Williams.

Bob continues to go above and beyond to advocate for his son in hopes that New Jersey’s governor and legislature will consider expanding access to home health care and services designed specifically for autistic and other developmentally delayed individuals. The state’s PCA program and many other home and community-based services (HCBS) are fully funded by the state. And—as the state population continues to age and as more individuals and the government see the health, safety, and cost-savings benefits of home care—it is important for state governments to ensure that the workforce is sufficient to allow residents and their families the care they need to stay safe in their homes, and as independent as possible within their communities.

Advocacy Matters!

At Hearts for Home Care, we help those that care about home care by enabling you to get involved at the capacity in which you’re able to do so. Email us at advocacy@bayada.com or follow us on Facebook.com/Hearts4HomeCare in order to learn more about the home care advocacy community and find opportunities to get involved.

2019 National Ambassador of the Year: Shelby Myers

Advocacy became part of the culture at BAYADA Home Health Care a little over 10 years ago out of a need for a collective voice to speak on behalf of our clients, families, and field staff who are impacted every day by home care. As Chief Government Affairs Officer Dave Totaro, likes to say, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” And that’s what we did. We banded together a voluntary group of advocates within the company with the single purpose of acting as a voice for those in the home care community that may not have had the opportunity otherwise ─ they are our Hearts for Home Care Ambassadors. 

Our ambassadors serve as the liaison between the Hearts for Home Care advocacy team and their co-workers and home care community. Their primary responsibility is to develop and foster relationships with their direct-constituent legislators to spread awareness and advocate for better wages for field staff, more approved hours for clients, and the overall governmental investment in the home care industry. Year after year, our ambassadors go above and beyond to ensure legislators are aware of the crucial importance of home care for so many families across the country. 

A few weeks ago, Hearts for Home Care presented the 2019 National Ambassador of the Year award to Shelby Myers for her role as a dedicated, passionate, and influential ambassador. As an ambassador in New Jersey, Shelby’s advocacy efforts were abundant ─ She developed her own platform to share client and employee stories through a podcast, Clayton’s Voice, she arranged home visits in which she invited legislators into the home of a client to showcase the everyday process of care, she arranged legislative roundtables with office staff and key decision makers, and she also met with many legislators individually advocating on her own.  For these reasons and many more, Shelby was the clear choice as the 2019 honoree.

Shelby Myers:

“This award is truly a culmination of efforts by so many individuals. Although I humbly accept it, by no means am I the primary recipient – that honor should be given to the families I was privileged to represent. Their powerful and sometimes heartbreaking stories, were the driving force behind legislation in New Jersey. I have no doubt that their voices were echoed in the ears of our lawmakers as they were voting on important home care legislation. Our role as ambassadors is essential to the well-being of our clients, families, and the compassionate field staff that takes care of them. Hearts for Home Care offers something that many of them have lost – hope. H4HC shifts the impossibility of their situation to a probability of hopeful change. Not only can we evoke change legislatively, but we empower families by showing how even the smallest of voices can create the largest of changes ─ I truly held this privilege in the highest regard. As Emerson so eloquently expressed in his description of success, “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded!” I feel enormously blessed and grateful for every family I met, every story I heard, and every hand I held this past year. Additionally, I want to thank all of the BAYADA employees who gave me the opportunity to meet their clients and families, to the Hearts for Home Care team for the advocacy experiences you foster to elicit change, and to all of my mentors – thank you for changing my life.”

Legislation Close to our Hearts: NJ Mobility Bill Named after Hearts for Home Care Advocate’s Daughter, Mary!

Mom Tara Montague (left) and daughter Mary (center) during a home visit with Asw. Carol Murphy. Asw. Murphy recently introduced “Mary’s Law.”

Home care supporter and New Jersey Assemblywoman Carol Murphy recently introduced a bill which will address unequal access to the purchase of modified vans through the Catastrophic illness in Children Relief Fund.

Assemblywoman Murphy was alerted to the issue after Hearts for Home Care manager and advocate Tara Montague told her about the issue, and how it has impacted her daughter, Mary, and many of New Jersey’s medically fragile children. Mary and Tara have utilized the fund, and have been important advocates in ensuring the fund is both adequately funded and accessible for the many New Jersey residents that need it.

Currently, families can apply to the Catastrophic Fund to purchase a modified van so that they can safely transport their medically fragile child. However, current regulations require that families pay for the van upfront and wait to be reimbursed by the Fund. This stipulation presents a sincere barrier to transportation for families that cannot afford to front tens of thousands of dollars while they wait to be reimbursed.

Mary’s Law addresses this issue by requiring the Catastrophic Fund to provide direct payments for the purchases of specialized, modified motor vehicles. In addition, this legislation will increase the annual surcharge for New Jersey employers from $1.50 to $3.00 per employee to insure the Catastrophic Fund is adequately funded to meet the its purpose and demands.

“Medically fragile children like Mary deserve to travel safely and freely. This legislation ensures that children and their families receive the help they need regardless of their financial situations. Ever since Mary was born, I’ve been a staunch advocate for her needs and for better laws and policies, but I never thought advocacy could hit so close to home–Mary and our family are ecstatic that we can bring about change for all New Jersey’s children and families that need it,” said Tara.

Thank you to Tara and Mary for continuing to be effective advocates on access to transportation. Hearts for Home Care will continue to provide updates as the legislation progresses through New Jersey committees and chambers. If you have questions about this legislation or how to get more involved in advocacy on behalf of yourself, a loved one, or your staff and clients, please contact advocacy@bayada.com today.

Legislation Close to our Hearts: NJ Mobility Bill Named after BAYADA Client Mary Montague!

Mom Tara Montague (left) and daughter Mary (center) during a home visit with Asw. Carol Murphy. Asw. Murphy recently introduced “Mary’s Law.”

BAYADA Legislative Champion, Assemblywoman Carol Murphy, recently introduced a bill which will address unequal access to the purchase of modified vans through the Catastrophic illness in Children Relief Fund. The bill is named after BAYADA client Mary Montague. Not only is Mary a client—but the daughter of an employee! Mom Tara Montague works in the Government Affairs Office (GAO) as client and family advocacy manager. Mary and Tara have utilized the fund, and have been important advocates in ensuring the fund is both adequately funded and accessible for the many New Jersey residents that need it.

Currently, families can apply to the Catastrophic Fund to purchase a modified van so that they can safely transport their medically fragile child. However, current regulations require that families pay for the van upfront and wait to be reimbursed by the Fund. This stipulation presents a sincere barrier to transportation for families that cannot afford to front tens of thousands of dollars while they wait to be reimbursed.

Mary’s Law addresses this issue by requiring the Catastrophic Fund to provide direct payments for the purchases of specialized, modified motor vehicles. In addition, this legislation will increase the annual surcharge for New Jersey employers from $1.50 to $3.00 per employee to insure the Catastrophic Fund is adequately funded to meet the its purpose and demands.

“Medically fragile children like Mary deserve to travel safely and freely. This legislation ensures that children and their families receive the help they need regardless of their financial situations. Ever since Mary was born, I’ve been a staunch advocate for her needs and for better laws and policies, but I never thought advocacy could hit so close to home–Mary and our family are ecstatic that we can bring about change for all New Jersey’s children and families that need it,” said Tara.

Thank you to Tara and Mary for continuing to be effective advocates on access to transportation. GAO will continue to provide updates as the legislation progresses through New Jersey committees and chambers.

If you have questions about this legislation or how to get more involved in advocacy at BAYADA on behalf of yourself, a loved one, or your staff and clients, please contact advocacy@bayada.com today.