Personal attendants, disability rights, and the indivisibility of justice: an interview with Cathy Cranston

Listening for a Change Interview with Cathy Cranston

Date: October 3, 2011
Interviewer: Luz Guerra
Videographer: Erin Park Markert
Equipment: Digital flip camera
Recorded on: within camera (no cassette)
Transcriber: Virginia Raymond
Approved by Cathy Cranston: February 9, 2012

Luz Guerra: Cathy.

Cathy Cranston: Hi, Luz.

Luz: I just met you, and you said that you did work with organizing care providers

Cathy Cranston: Ummm-hmmm (affirmative).

Luz: ..for people with disabilities.

Cathy Cranston: Ummm-hmmm (affirmative).

Luz: Sounds fascinating. Will you tell me more?

Cathy Cranston: Sure. I started specifically organizing workers in 2005. Being a direct care worker, personal attendant, for people with disabilities and seniors for about thirty years myself, and being involved with ADAPT for quite a few years, myself and another organizer. We had been discussing this issue for quite some time. What we saw was, here within our state, that there was no entity, specific entity, that would advocate for the direct care workers that work for people in their homes in the community. And ADAPT initially started doing it, I guess probably four years prior to us taking on this project. And so, like I said, we started in 2005, and a lot of things have happened.

Our organization has grown. We are a project of ADAPT, and like I say, we’ve grown. We initially started – we’ve had several different campaigns. One was “equal work for equal pay.” Our campaigns start a little bit before each legislative session. With “equal work for equal pay,” what that meant was – what we found was that there was a wage disparity within people working within different home and community-based programs. And so within each program – let’s say for example you might have “primary home care” and then there’s another one that is called “community-based alternative” and then you have H.C.S. – there’s all these different types of programs. But what we found that is, is that quite often the personal attendants do the same tasks, but what the state does, has done, they set the rates to pay the home health-care agencies —

It’s a little complicated, but anyway. They set these rates, and what we found was, is that you have this wage disparity among each of the programs. And so that’s why we thought, we’d do “equal pay for equal work.” And there was even a two-dollar difference in wage between working in the community versus working within state institutions or the nursing facilities. And so we did that.

Another campaign that we had was in trying to get a bill passed which would have created a home and community based advisory council. The intent of that council would be to address the issues regarding workers that work within the community settings. Unfortunately, last session, or two sessions ago – I think it was two sessions ago – that bill got caught up in some chubbing

During that time there was that immigration, I think it was the I.D. bill that they tried to pass here in Texas. So our bill got caught up on the floor with all the chubbing and stuff. So our bill ended up dying.

But the really cool thing – if there is a cool thing – a good thing came out of that, is we ended up going to the Health and Human Services Commissioner, Executive Commissioner Suehs, and we asked him if he could implement the council nonetheless. And so he did, for a year. And out of that, PACT was represented, as well as there were some consumers on the council, as well as provider agencies, and a parent of a child who was receiving services within the community. And also there was representation for the older population; senior citizens were represented as well. And so out of that came a report that we put forward to Executive Commissioner Suehs, with fourteen recommendations. And the really cool thing about all of this: we were able to have the top five recommendations were recommendations that PACT and ADAPT had been working on the previous years.

And so, that’s some of the things that we do. And, let me think, what else have we been doing?

A really cool thing, also, that we were able to do for last session: we were able to work with the Texas After Violence Project, with some of their interns to – and this actually was with them but outside of the [Texas After Violence Project] hours as well. And so what we did was interview some of the personal attendants within our organization and ask them what they needed. And basically it was a tool to use, it was a tool that we ended up using, to go and advocate for higher wages and health care benefits to make our legislative visits. And so we’ve been doing that.

And then this last summer time we ended up going to Lubbock. The state decided to – oh gosh — they always — with the last legislative session there were a lot of cuts. And being, what is it, twenty-eight billion dollar shortfall, the governor ended up basically going to all of the commissioners of each of the different agencies and saying, You need to find cuts. Find where you can cut.

Well, he didn’t say it like that, but that’s basically what it was.

And so the Commissioner of DADS, the Department of Aging and Disability Services, ended up deciding to do this pilot project regarding electronic visit verification. And what that is supposed to, it’s basically like a tracking or a monitoring of the personal attendants. They would have to call in when they got to work and then call out when they left.

A lot of our members of PACT and of ADAPT, we were very offended. As a worker. What they were saying – and there were public hearings and everything – but what they were saying basically was they think there’s enough fraud that’s occurring, and so this is one way they can cut out that fraud.

The other thing is, it’s an invasion of privacy for the consumer. A lot of us attendants, what we do is, many times we will even start work before we get to a person’s home. And so that was brought up in the public hearings — The state has to cover their butt. There’s a process. There was a public hearing before they decided to implement all this. And so all the issues that we brought forward – and not just us, there were other advocacy groups that advocated for people with disabilities and seniors, and workers, basically saying, that, Hey, What about this? That example that I gave before about workers that start before, how are they going to clock their hours? There are many issues that came up, but nonetheless it passed. So it was implemented in March.

So my husband and myself and Jennifer, another organizer here in our office, we ended up going out to Lubbock to find out how it was going. Because in the Lubbock, Odessa — actually it was in Odessa and Amarillo, in that area – that had implemented it, initially, in that area.

So we spoke to the home health-care agencies and we spoke to the workers and the consumers. But we ended up splitting them. We had the consumers and the workers together and the home health-care agencies separated out, ‘cause we didn’t want any time of – you know – some people aren’t comfortable speaking about an agency in front of their face. They needed to have that feeling of safety, that they could say what they needed to say.

Well, in both arenas what we found out is that, sure enough, all those same issues that we had brought up at those public hearings were the same issues that they were bringing to us. Some of the home health-care agencies were saying, Our attendants are dedicated and committed attendants, but they’re having a difficult time with the process, with the E.V.V. or the fixed visit verification, punching in the numbers, or just trying to figure it out. It was very confusing for some of the workers. So what was happening is that the workers were not being paid their full salaries. They might – there was like a fifteen minute window and if they didn’t clock it properly, they would lose fifteen minutes. It was just unreal.

Those are the kind of things that we’ve been working on for the past six years, just to name a few. It’s quite a bit. It’s a lot. But it’s something that is, and has been, and will continue to be very important to me as well as [to] all our members.

Copyright Cathy Cranston and ADAPT of Texas, 2012. Reproduced with permission.