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Quiet Heroes

By Shona Eakin, CEO, Voices for Independence

The nation is justifiably proud of the work of our medical professionals. Their round-the-clock efforts are saving lives in our hospitals during this unprecedented medical emergency. But there’s another group, barely noticed, that quietly works as a lifeline to those with disabilities living in our communities. They are our direct care workers.

People with disabilities represent roughly 20% of our population nationally. An ever-increasing number of them have chosen to live in their homes, as opposed to a nursing facility. This is a group that is fiercely independent, and although things like mobility issues and/or weakened immune systems may characterize their disability, they are a relatively healthy segment of our population. Staying out of institutions and living in the community is the safest way for this group to cope with the current pandemic, and direct care workers make it possible.

Every day, these dedicated attendants leave their homes and provide necessary support and companionship to those in their care. They run errands to pharmacies and supermarkets, assist with medications, aide mobility, and provide general help around the home. They provide a lifeline for those they serve and they make it possible for them to stay safe and out of institutions. With the Coronavirus, we’ve seen that life in an institution presents real risk with life-and-death repercussions.

Clearly, this work has also become riskier during this outbreak, but these dedicated caregivers are motivated more by altruism than pay. The bond with those they assist is strong, and in many cases, has lasted for years.

There is help for the helpers. Centers for independent living are located throughout the country and are tasked with the responsibility of supporting this little-known workforce.

Voices for Independence is such a center, providing this service from Pittsburgh to Erie, in Western PA. VFI recruits, trains, and coordinates assignments plus scheduling for over 1,200 Pennsylvania direct care workers. They support this important work 24 hours a day, providing ongoing guidance, information, and when necessary, emergency replacements. This is not an optional assignment. Someone must show up - the term “lifeline” truly applies here.

In normal times, the job of direct care workers is necessary to safeguard the lives of those who are the most vulnerable in our community. It is work that takes place well below the radar screen of 80% of the population. During these difficult days, the work is more dangerous and ever more important. We need to salute these quiet heroes and recognize their contributions to our community.

For more information about Voices for Independence, visit www.VFICIL.org.

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