How essential is ‘Essential?’
In this unprecedented holiday season, we give thanks for all the dedicated, essential direct support, administrative, and health care professionals of Oak Hill, Gilead Community Services, and Easterseals of Oak Hill as they continue to provide daily services and supports to people with intellectual, developmental, mental health, addiction, physical, and other challenges across the state.
Providing special education in our school classrooms, working in group homes, supporting people in their own homes or in family homes, and providing supports in our clinics and centers, these professionals face up to the risk of catching COVID-19 every day. Their commitment to work on the front lines of this pandemic has been reinforced even more to accomplish their mission: serving the people they care for with love.
We celebrate the dedication of our 1,500 employees, of whom 76% are women and 64% identify as people of color. We see fair compensation — a living wage, health insurance benefits and access to affordable childcare — as an equity issue that must be addressed by the state. Funding these services will go a long way to protect our public health. Funding these jobs to achieve livable standards is also an urgent matter of equitable justice.
Connecticut must act now to recognize these essential workers and protect them, their families and the people who rely on their services. Our elected officials must provide:
- Appropriate funding and Medicaid rate increases for community nonprofits that have been underfunded, with no rate increases since 2007,
- Personal protective equipment (PPE) for all essential workers who need it: The state needs to assist in the acquisition and distribution of safe supplies of PPE, be it through the state’s purchasing power or by special funding to support providers like Oak Hill
- Prioritized rapid testing and vaccines for our frontline employees and for the protection of the people they support. Our employees and services should be classified as essential,
- A modernized health and human services delivery system by leveraging federal and state resources to sustain quality services, with a vision of growing rather than reducing services
Close collaboration in the work we do is vital. And there is no better time like the one we are in now to continue to come together and help one another navigate the challenges that lay before us. Now is the time to focus on the positive impact that the Oak Hill mission, and the mission of similar organizations, has on everyone across Connecticut.
As we press on, providing the specialty healthcare and special education services that we do, we hope our elected officials recognize how critical our employees are to the community. We have seen the outpouring of support from the communities we serve and beyond. Community and public support is what carries us through. Now we hope our elected officials will do the same when they get down to business after the holidays.
Barry M. Simon is President and CEO and David Hadden is Board Chair of Oak Hill.
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