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Care repair

Finding and retaining workers at group homes and day care facilities serving people with a wide range of intellectual, emotional and physical needs is becoming increasingly difficult, says Joe Erwin, president of the Association of Macomb-Oakland Regional Center.

It’s not surprising. With starting wages comparable to what can be made flipping burgers in a fast food joint, why take on the high-stress work of caring for someone subject to psychotic fits or a person so severely retarded they can’t control their bodily functions?

Erwin, whose group advocates on behalf of more than 2,000 people receiving care provided by the nonprofit Macomb-Oakland Regional Center, says it is time for the state to step in and help. He reports that more than 15,000 people have signed a petition urging lawmakers to guarantee direct care workers a $1-per-hour annual increase over each of the next three years, with the goal of establishing an entry-level wage of about $10 an hour by 2002.

The reception from the state’s Republican leadership has been considerably less than enthusiastic. There’s a shocker — compassionate conservatives, sans the compassion.

“You couldn’t get a politician to spend a day in a group home to see what it’s like to work there,” chides Erwin. “Yet they’re supposed to be the ones representing all the citizens.”

Which means that more pressure must be applied if this idea is going to go anywhere. For more information about the petition drive, call Erwin at 248-676-8124.

Jennifer Bagwell is a Detroit-area freelance writer. Send comments to

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