Last Tuesday, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) made a stop at Hope Haven during her visit to Northwest Iowa, touring one of the organization’s 56 community living homes.
Ernst, who has a nephew with autism, expressed her appreciation for what Hope Haven does to serve people with disabilities.
“For me, these are wonderful people living in our communities and working in our communities, and we need to make sure that they are included in our activities,” she said. “I think that’s absolutely something worthy of our federal government’s support.”
After touring a community living home, Ernst visited with Hope Haven employees about the issues the disability services industry faces, including everything from adequate and readily accessible dental coverage to a proposed regulation within CMS (Centers for Medicaid and Medicare), Hope Haven’s primary funding stream.
As noted by Emma McBride, Hope Haven’s Quality Improvement Manager, one of the positives that came out of the Covid-19 pandemic was access to psychiatric care via telehealth, something Ernst plans to continue advocating for.
Last year, Ernst co-signed a bill to create a standard occupational code direct for direct support professionals. This action would give legislators a better understanding of the unique workforce issues and inform policy-making and pay rate settings. The bill was introduced to the legislature last year and is on the floor this year as S.1437.
Direct support professional pay is currently determined by comparing wages to occupational categories that have little to do with direct support professional work.
“There are a lot of DSPs in the U.S., and we need better data especially from a wage perspective,” said Hope Haven’s CEO, Matt Buley. “We’re suffocating a bit on the workforce side. Currently, every other industry is talking about this, but we’ve been talking about this for decades.”
Buley expressed his appreciation for Senator Ernst and her ongoing support of organizations that provide disability services.
“She cares about this work. She is a voice for us. When she says, ‘I want to fight for disability services,’ she isn’t just saying it,” he said, noting that she was named a congressional champion by the American Network for Community Options and Recourses (ANCOR) in 2020. “She’s doing it. I know that speaking up for people is a big reason that she is in the job that she is in.”
Hope Haven remains one of Iowa’s biggest providers of disability services. To date, the organization serves 600 individuals in community living sites, over 300 people through its supported community employment program, 218 in its day habilitation program, and over 100 people in its mental health program.
“It was a big day for Hope Haven to have a U.S. Senator come and visit,” said Buley. “The individuals were thrilled to show Senator Ernst around their home, and it was good to be able to talk about the issues affecting our industry. It was an encouragement to us that she chose to come here.”
Press Release by Kelly Vander Pol – Rock Valley Bee