FROM READERS: The work (and low pay) of a home care attendant

Wednesday, September 3, 2014 | 12:09 a.m. CDT
Nicole Galloway meets with attendant Karen Brickey and Marcie Luebbert in Luebbert's home. Galloway spent the day learning how Luebbert's attendants assist her with day-to-day activities and allow her to remain active in the community.

Nicole Galloway is the Boone County Treasurer. She supports an increased minimum wage for home care attendants.

Marcie Luebbert was born with a disability and has been in a wheelchair for decades. She lives in an apartment with pictures of family and friends lining her walls. She also has several certificates of accomplishment and recognition from her church and the City of Columbia, of which she is clearly proud.

Marcie cannot get out of bed, brush her teeth, shower or cook without the help of Karen Brickeyher home care attendant. Marcie is one of 30,000 Missourians who participate in the Consumer Directed Services program, which allows her to stay in her home and her community, instead of living in a nursing facility.

Karen has challenges of her own. Karen is college educated and used to work for the state. Due to budget cuts, she lost her job. She is a single mother of two teenage daughters, and one of her daughters has a disability. She is compassionate and kind to Marcie, and feels that helping people with disabilities live full lives is her true calling.

Karen makes $8.60 an hour. Her teenage daughter, working outside of high school, makes more per hour than she does.

Marcie let me into her home this past Thursday to see how Karen makes a difference in her life. I was able to “walk a day in her shoes” and see the intensive work required for simple day-to-day living for Marcie. It didn’t take long to see the value Karen brings to Marcie’s life.

Home care attendants allow people with disabilities and elderly people to stay in their homes by giving them the help they need to live independent lives. By staying in their homes, people can remain close to familyand friends, and be active in their communities and churches. It also saves the state millions of dollars a year.

The state's average cost when someone stays in their home is about $10,700. When someone moves to a nursing facility, it is nearly four times higher—at $42,000.

Karen is truly a partner to Marcie. Marcie must have someone she trusts to come into her home every day and do the most personal of tasks. Good attendants are hard to attract and retain on a minimum of $7.50 per hour. Like thousands of attendants across the state, Karen’s household income is below the poverty line.

Karen shared many stories of loving attendants that had to quit and find other jobs because they could not make ends meet on the low wages they earned. Attendants, consumers like Marcie, community leaders and elected officials are advocating for a minimum wage for attendants of $11 per hour.

As someone who works with numbers and budgets every day, for me it’s easy math to see how retaining and attracting valuable home care attendants allows the state to save millions of dollars each year. Beyond that, I think of my grandma and grandpa. When the time comes andthey need assistance living independently — I know what it would mean to stay in their home, close to family, grandchildren, friends, their community, civic groups and church.

My short experience provided a glimpse into the day-to-day successes and struggles faced by Missourians and the workers dedicated to improving their quality of life. We can make this experience better by supporting an increased wage for home care workers — a modest, well-deserved increase to $11. Please visit to support Marcie, Karen and 30,000 other fellow Missourians.

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.

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John Schultz September 5, 2014 | 3:37 p.m.

How much of the additional dollars will the union get instead of being passed along to the care provider?

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