Daily Gratitude Is Always Good for Your Health

Published in Woonsocket Call on November 27, 2016

A few days ago we celebrated Thanksgiving, the nation’s oldest tradition. Over 48 million Americans traveled a minimum of 50 miles to spend this national holiday with family and friends, and a whopping 46 million turkeys were carved at these gatherings, served with mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, green beans, pumpkin and pecan pie.

Thanksgiving always falls on the fourth Thursday of November, and is a leisurely day to catch up with others, while centered around eating a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Many will turn on their TV’s to watch National Football League games, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or even see the pre-taped Westminster Dog Show.

But, with all these outer activities taking place throughout this day, we must not forget that Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful and show gratitude for all our personal and professional blessings.

Being Grateful, Giving Thanks

For this weekly commentary this writer reached out to Rhode Islanders asking them to think about and acknowledge what they were grateful for, and here were their thoughts…

John S. Baxter, Jr., 48, director of constituent services, Office of the President of the Senate, is grateful for being able to use professional developed skills to assist in his volunteer work. “Today, I am thankful for being able to make my living helping people through my service in the Rhode Island Senate. I’m also particularly thankful for lessons learned on the job that can be applied when I volunteer in my community; whether it is feeding the hungry, assisting persons with disabilities or supporting the arts,” says Baxter, a Pawtucket resident.

Jeffrey Brier, 63, president of Brier & Brier, is thankful for his family and business clients. This Warren resident says, “I am thankful to sit with my family and enjoy our Thanksgiving meal and each other’s presence. Saddened by those who are not with us and for those who have passed on. As an insurance agent, Brier says he finds it gratifying “to meet so many nice people with whom I enjoy working and assisting with their personal and business insurance.”

Greg Gerritt, 63, a Providence resident puts his words into action. Gerritt, founder of Buy Nothing Day Winter Coat Exchange, noted, “I actually skipped when they went around the table asking each to say what they were thankful for. I do not think of it that way. What I did was organize the 20th Buy Nothing Day Winter Coat Exchange. Might be different sides of the same coin.”

Denise Panichas, 62, is thankful for the “selfless people” that come into her life “Being in the nonprofit world, I’m always amazed at how selfless people can be and no one even knows the good deeds they do…at this time of year, I always take a step back and think to myself, “What would the world be without with those willing to sacrifice their time and talents?,” says Panichas, a Woonsocket resident who serves as executive director of The Samaritans of Rhode Island.

Scott Rotondo, 43, of Pawtucket, says his “cup truly runneth over” when asked what he is thankful for. The controller at Boston, Massachusetts-based Tivoli Audio, acknowledges, “I’m grateful for my career, my radio show and most of all our newest family addition, my daughter Jessica who we adopted out of foster care. I have made it a point to sincerely thank my family for all the support and love they’ve shared with me this year.”

Finally, Scott Wolf, 63, a Providence. resident, is grateful for positive role models he had while growing up. Wolf, executive director at Grow Smart RI, says “I thought about how lucky I have been to have so many outstanding role models –my parents first and foremost among them–, who are now gone physically but still inspiring me to leave my own positive mark on society.”

Being Grateful is Good for Your Health

According to Michael Craig Miller, MD, senior editor, mental health publishing at Harvard Health Publications, “the simple act of giving thanks is not just good for the community but may also be good for the brain and body.”

“By acknowledging the goodness in their lives, expressing gratitude often helps people recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. This can connect them to something larger—other people, nature, or a higher power,” says Miller, in his blog article entitled, “In Praise of Gratitude,” posted on the Harvard health Web Site, on October 29, 2015.

In Miller’s blog posting, he notes, “In the relatively new field of positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently linked to greater happiness. Expressing gratitude helps people feel positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”

Adds Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., on his blog article, “Why Gratitude is Good,” posted on November 10, 2015 on the Greater Good Science Center’s Web Site, gratitude can allow us to “celebrate the present.”

According to Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and the founding editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology, research findings indicate that “Gratitude blocks toxic, negative emotions.” These findings also show that “grateful people are more stress resistant” and “have a higher sense of self-worth.”

So, don’t wait until next Thanksgiving to show gratitude to all the good things surrounding you today. Be thankful for everything positive in your life, each and every day. Research tells us that showing gratitude may well be good for your physical and mental well-being.

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Report Hones in on Caregiving Costs

Published in Woonsocket Call on November 20, 2016

On the last day of October, a 537 word proclamation issued by President Barack Obama proclaimed November 2016 as National Family Caregiver (NFC) month. In this official decree the president encouraged the nation to pay tribute to 90 million caregivers who work tirelessly care for family members, friends, and even neighbors.

Obama recognizing the nation’s caregivers came about through the lobbying efforts of Caregiver Action Network (the National Family Caregivers Association). The Washington, DC-based group began its efforts to nationally recognize family caregivers in 1994. Three years later, President Clinton signed the first NFC Month Presidential Proclamation and every president since that time has followed suit by issuing an annual proclamation recognizing and honoring family caregivers each November.

On the heels of Obama’s signed proclamation comes the release of a new AARP report that details the out-of-pocket cost of caregiving. According to researchers, family caregivers spend an average of nearly 20 percent of their income providing care for a family member or other loved one. Along with increased out-of-pocket (OOP) expense, the study also explores other financial and personal strains that family caregivers may experience as result of their caregiving activities.

The Financial Strain of Caregiving

AARP’s 56 page research report “Family Caregiving and Out-of-Pocket Costs: 2016 Report,” noted that caregivers spend an average of $6,954 in OOP costs related to caregiving, with Hispanic/Latino and low-income family caregivers spending an average of 44 percent of their total annual income.

“This study spotlights the financial toll on family caregivers – particularly those with modest incomes,” said AARP Executive Vice President and Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer Nancy LeaMond. “Whether helping to pay for services or make home modifications, the costs can be enormous and may put their own economic and retirement security at risk. As a nation, we need to do more to support America’s greatest support system. Passing the bipartisan Credit for Caring Act that provides a federal tax credit of up to $3,000 would give some sorely needed financial relief to eligible family caregivers.”

AARP’s report, released November 14, 2016, determined the amount of money that family caregivers spent over the last year providing help or assistance to a loved one. Certain groups of family caregivers spend disproportionately more in OOP expenses, said the researchers.

AARP’s report, prepared by Chuck Rainville, Laura Skufca and Laura Mehegan, noted that family caregivers of all ages spend $6,954 in OOP costs related to caregiving on average. They are earning less than $32,500 are under significant financial strain, spending an average of 44 percent of their annual income on caregiving.

Family caregivers caring for adults with dementia spend nearly twice the OOP costs ($10,697) than those caring for adults without dementia ($5,758), the AARP report found.

Cultural Diversity and Caregiver Costs

Researchers looked at cultural diversity as it related to OOP expenses of family caregivers. According to their findings, Hispanic/Latino family caregivers spend an average of $9,022 representing 44 percent of their total income per year. By comparison, African American family caregivers spend $6,616 or 34 percent, white family caregivers spend $6,964 or 14 percent, and Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders spend $2,935 or 9 percent.

As expected, long-distance family caregivers had the highest OOP costs at $11,923 compared with family caregivers living with or nearby their care recipients.

The AARP report notes that increased OOP forces family caregivers to dip into savings, cut back on personal their spending, and they save less for retirement. Some must take out loans to make financial ends meet. Additionally, more than half of family caregivers are cutting back on leisure spending and also reported a report a work-related strain such as having to take unpaid time off.

“Many family caregivers experience a great deal of physical, emotional, and financial strain,” added Susan Reinhard, RN, PhD, Senior Vice President and Director, AARP Public Policy Institute. “This report highlights why AARP supports the bipartisan Recognize, Assist, Include, Support, and Engage (RAISE) Family Caregivers Act that would require the development of a national strategy to support family caregivers.”

AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell says that AARP’s recently released report verifies what most family caregivers know all too well: Providing for a loved one challenges caregivers in many ways and out-of-pocket expenses certainly is one of them, she says.

“In conversations I’ve had with caregivers over the years, I have found most all consider their efforts a responsibility as well as a labor of love. They rarely complain about cost because, I suspect, they try never to characterize caregiving as a burden,” says Connell..

Connell says, “With passage of the CARE Act and its implementation coming in 2017, Rhode Island is among the states leading the way in caregiver support. We cannot rest. You may be a caregiver. You may know a caregiver. You may someday rely on a caregiver. Any way you look at it, you need to be in the conversation about future needs.”

This study of a nationally representative sample of 1,864 family caregivers was conducted by GfK from July 18–August 28, 2016. All study respondents were currently providing unpaid care to a relative or friend age 18 or older to help them take care of themselves.

The full results of AARP’s caregiver report can be found here: http://www.aarp.org/caregivercosts

Fifth Time a Charm for Direct Care Worker Raises?

Published in Woonsocket Call on November 6, 2016

When the Rhode Island General Assembly wraps up its session many times the stars are not in political alignment for passage of a particular legislative proposal or budget amendment, even if many lawmakers considered these to be worthy of passage. Sen. Louis P. DiPalma understands this very well.

During the past four legislative sessions he has unsuccessfully pushed to increase pay for direct care workers serving persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities by boosting the state’s budget funding for these workers.
DiPalma, a Middletown resident who as a senator has represented Little Compton, Middletown and Tiverton for over 8 years, has come back for a fifth time, hopefully the last, to see his efforts succeed in providing a living wage to these providers, enhancing the quality of life of their lives.

A Call for a ’15 in 5’ Pay Increase

At a news conference held on Friday, Oct. 28, at Warwick-based West Bay Residential Services, DiPalma along with fellow Senators, announced their support for his proposal: ’15 in 5’ pay increase for workers serving persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Democratic senator envisions annual, incremental increases in compensation to reach $15 an hour in five years, and tying the pay rate to inflation thereafter.

A 2015 survey by the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island paints a picture of Rhode Island’s direct care workers. The majority of these individuals are women of households. Many receive state assistance from programs geared towards low-income workers, such as SNAP benefits, WIC, heating assistance, day care assistance, and housing aid. More than 40 percent of the workers hold more than one job to financially survive.

At the 53-minute press conference, DiPalma urged Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo to include his funding proposal in her 2017 budget submission. He also plans to submit legislation in the 2017 session to address the compensation system for these direct care workers, providing annual increases so that the pay rate of direct care workers reaches $15 in five years, and tying future wage increases beyond five years to inflation.

“The minimum wage has increased by 30 percent since 2012, but the rate paid to these essential direct care providers has remained stagnant,” charged DiPalma, at the press event. “The pay is now barely more than minimum wage, which is having a detrimental effect on staff retention, training costs, and, as a result, quality of care [for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities],” he says.

DiPalma noted that the need for this pay increase is obvious. “The facts and data show that our direct care workers love their jobs and want to stay in the field. They genuinely care about the population they serve. Yet, 62 percent of respondents to a recent survey indicated that low salary was a factor that may make them leave their jobs. We need to act to address this urgent situation,” he said.

According to DiPalma, the average annual staff turnover rate in the private provider network is approximately 33 percent. “This is three times as high as the approximately 11 percent staff turnover rate for comparable positions with the state-run providers through the Rhode Island Community Living and Supports (RICLAS) at the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, according to providers and RICLAS,” he says.

The average private-sector direct care worker makes $10.82 per hour, or about $22,500 a year, says DiPalma, noting that entry level provider positions at state RICLAS pay $17.15 per hour. When considering longevity, the average wage for all RICLAS direct care workers is approximately $42,278. RICLAS workers also receive state employee benefits.

Jumping on the Band Wagon

Two days before DiPalma’s press conference, Secretary of Health and Human Services Elizabeth Roberts penned her endorsement of his wage increase proposal. In her Oct. 26 correspondence, she strongly endorsed his efforts to implement multiyear wage increases to Rhode Island’s direct service providers. “These workers are critically important to realizing the goals set forth in our clients’ person-centered plans,” she adds, noting that these workers provide services necessary for ensuring that persons with disabilities are integrated in Rhode Island communities.

At the press conference, S came to give DiPalma his blessings. “Increasing wages to private direct care workers addresses an important part of the wage inequity problem, and helps improve outcomes for the individuals they serve. At the same time, we need to continue to review the methodology for compensating all those direct care workers who serve our children, homebound elderly, and individuals with disabilities through other types of provider agencies,” says Da Ponte.

Like other speakers at the press conference, Donna Martin, executive director of Community Provider Network of Rhode Island, called initial salaries for direct service workers “woefully inadequate” for the work they perform. “They are working nights and holidays leaving their families behind to support individuals under their care.,” says Martin. “These individuals serve as mentor, friend, confident and even some serve in the role of family to their clients,” she adds.

Adds speaker Anthony Antosh, Director of the Paul V. Sherlock Center on Disabilities: “The field of developmental disabilities has dramatically changed in the past two decades as have the responsibilities and expectations for direct support staff. The outcomes achieved by adults who have a developmental disability are directly connected to the quality and stability of direct support staff. Developing a career ladder built on quality training and fair wages will go a long way towards stabilizing the direct support workforce and improving quality of services.”

Marie Carroll, a direct service provider employed by ARC of Blackstone valley, a
Pawtucket-based agency employing over 200 employees, sat in the audience to support DiPalma in his efforts to increase funding for direct care workers. She sees Rhode Island’s lower wages pulling her colleagues into Massachusetts for higher incomes.
Carroll hopes to see the Rhode Island General Assembly in the upcoming session value the work she and 3,500 direct care workers provide. “People who care for the state’s disabled should not be paid poverty wages. You can’t expect people to work in an emotional and sometimes physically demanding job for $11 per hour,” she said, stressing that low wages keep these workers from taking adequate care of their own families.

Boosting Wage Payments in Next Year’s Budget

At press time, DiPalma’s wage increase proposal has received a seal of approval from President of the Senate M. Teresa Paiva Weed and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Da Ponte. Roberts, as Secretary of Health & Human Services, who oversees the state’s disability programs and services, gives her enthusiastic support for boosting funding of direct services workers in the upcoming 2018 budget. But, press secretary Larry Berman says that House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello is studying DiPalma’s proposal and has not yet taken a position on this issue.

Even with early political support of DiPalma’s ’15 in 5’ Pay Increase proposal, its ultimate passage lies with either Governor Raimondo boosting direct car worker wages in her FY 2018 budget proposal or in the state’s final budget crafted by the House with the sign off of the Senate. For DiPalma and those working with persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities, the Governor, House Speaker and President of the Senate must be on the same page to move DiPalma’s proposal forward. Hopefully, the “fifth time is the charm.”