by Barbara Merrill, CEO, ANCOR
I miss seeing you in person. I draw my public speaking energy from seeing you in front of me, and while I loved “seeing you” this week during ANCOR’s Virtual Annual Conference, I missed seeing you in Miami.
But I want you to know that I do see you. I see your pride in how your agencies are responding to this enormous public health challenge. I listen to your stories about how people aren’t running away, they are demonstrating courage. I see the Rhode Island DSPs and staff from ReFocus that formed an honor guard to welcome back from the hospital a man who tested positive for COVID-19 and was coming home to hospice to pass. They weren’t running away. They were there to greet him, to salute him, and to support and love him through his final days.
I also see your concern. At times, I see your fear. I see your grief. Your loss. I see you doing everything in your power to keep your staff and the individuals you support safe. I see you looking at exploding costs and lost revenues. I see you wondering how you’ll stay afloat. I see, as one of our Board members shared so poignantly, you start your days energized and positive, but come nighttime are drained and depleted. I see that, I hear that. I am also riding this roller coaster of emotions.
But we will get through this, and we’ll do it by working together. Taking one step at a time, mindful of tomorrow, but firmly planted in today. Being there for each other, making our collective voices heard. Demonstrating quiet and calm leadership, doing the next best thing. Taking things as they come, sometimes by the minute, sometimes by the hour, sometimes just making it up as we go. As Ben Tesdahl, ANCOR’s corporate attorney, reminded me in one of my many calls to him when deciding what to do about this year’s Annual Conference in Miami, “Barbara, if this stuff was easy, anyone could do it.”
Never before have you been asked to do so much with such shortages. Never have so many of you faced a future with such troubling questions about finding the resources to carry your oranization. Never before has the question of best practice been so intertwined with life-and-death decisions. Never before has the world in which you work been dominated by so many unanswered questions.
ANCOR is with you.
We’re working seven days a week lobbying Congress, HHS, DOL and the NGA to support members across states to share best practices for responding at the agency and state levels, bringing you relevant educational resources, creating essential worker toolkits, leveraging the press to tell our story. Never have we worked harder, never have we faced such a daunting challenge. For all of us, never has the mountain been higher or the climb more perilous. But if we are all put on this earth for a purpose, then never have you or I been so blessed with the opportunity to make such a difference.
Speaking personally, and for your ANCOR staff, let me say we have never been more proud to serve you, or more humbled by your heroic service, or more determined to help make your path a little less daunting.
Already this year we’ve worked successfully across the aisle to advance our advocacy agenda. On March 3, our bill to mandate that the Department of Labor create a standard occupational classification for DSPs was introduced, led by Senators Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Susan Collins (R-ME). A companion bipartisan bill was also introduced in the House by Representatives Brendan Boyle (D-PA), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Pete King (R-NY), Sean Maloney (D-NY) and Kathleen Rice (D-NY).
I’m incredibly proud that the bill — the Isaiah Baker and Margie Harris-Austin Act — brought to us by Shirley Walker, the recently retired CEO of PAR, was introduced in December and passed into law less than three months later. Championed by Representatives Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA) and Tom Emmer (R-MN), the bill authorizes states to reimburse, if they so choose, direct support professionals’ time supporting individuals during short-term hospital stays. It immediately caught on, and was included in the second COVID-19 response bill, along with reauthorization of funding for the Money Follows the Person program.
We also scored a major win in getting Medicaid providers included in the Paycheck Protection Program loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), but our massively important lobbying goal has been, and remains, securing cash payments for all of our members, regardless of size of corporate status. Medicaid and Medicare providers were explicitly excluded from the SBA loans, meaning these loans could only help some of our members. But even for those who could apply for the loans, the impact was minimal; the results of the provider fiscal impact survey we’re releasing this week show it wasn’t enough even for those that qualified.
Speaking of that survey, I want to extend a huge thanks to the 714 providers that responded! We’ve commissioned Avalere, the same firm that we used during the block grant/per capita cap fight and the DOL Overtime Rule SOS Campaign, to analyze the data. We’ll be using the report Avalere has developed for us to bolster the personal stories to advocate relentlessly for you to receive payments from the Emergency Fund appropriated by Congress to HHS, and for dedicated funding in the next congressional package to cover overtime, hazard pay and PPE, and to recoup losses from shuttered programs.
We cannot accept anything but success, and that’s why I want to thank you for your extraordinary responses to our action alerts. More than 35,000 of you have sent over 115,000 messages to Congress. Sit with that for a moment…that’s fantastic!
But we need you to stay with us, and help us cross the finish line. We need you to write letters to the editor, we need you to submit op-eds, we need you to use social media to amplify our need for funding. We need you to demand from your members of Congress and from the Trump administration that you be recognized as being on the frontlines of this awful scourge. In spite of the dark clouds that cast their shadow on our work, I am confident that together, we will succeed.