Noah Spaulding of Pennsylvania hopes to live on campus at Messiah College this fall. A lack of support staff is threatening to make that dream a reality. Spaulding has Cerebral Palsy and requires assistance with activities of daily living. The 23-year-old completed his college coursework remotely in the basement of his parents ’ home this past spring, achieving a 3.71 GPA. Last fall, Spaulding was expected to move into an apartment at Messiah College in Cumberland County. Plans for live-in assistance fell through, however, forcing him to take classes online.
Unfortunately, Spaulding’s situation is not unique. Nationwide there is a shortage of support staff for those with disabilities. This has forced some people to move into a nursing home or facility.
In other cases, parents have to provide care. In Minnesota, Matt and Eunice Morelli bring their 56-year-old son Marco to their apartment in a senior living community several days a week due to staffing shortages at his group home. Matt and Eunice, 90 and 87, are expected to provide intensive physical care many days a week.
I have Cerebral Palsy like Spaulding and have struggled in the past to find PCAs. In three semesters of college, I went through three different PCAs. My mom and a friend often filled in. It forced them to rearrange their schedules to accommodate me. I felt guilty and wondered if college was worth the stress I experienced at the time. I can’t imagine how difficult it would have been if I lived on campus.
In August 2020, I moved into my apartment. I am very fortunate to have a live-in PCA who provides 24/7 care. If I need help at 3:00 AM, he is there. I don’t have to worry about using the bathroom at night. I am able to enjoy life because I have reliable care.
Turnover is high in this field. Low wages and limited if any benefits make staff difficult to find. Often these positions don’t provide health insurance, retirement plans, or sick time. In Spaulding’s home state, the average hourly wage of $13.40 drives individuals to different occupations.
Caregivers make it possible for millions of disabled people to live in their communities. Without the proper support, our lives would be much different. Disabled people should be able to go to college, work, and even to concerts and the movie theater. Nobody should be forced to live in a nursing home. We need to fix this shortage now, because care can’t wait.
Swanson, Kirsten. “From Group Home to Senior Living. Staffing Crisis in Minnesota’s Disability Services Forces Aging Parents into Desperate Situations.” KSTP, 4 Aug. 2022, https://kstp.com/5-investigates/from-group-home-to-senior-living-staffing-crisis-in-minnesotas-disability-services-forces-aging-parents-into-desperate-situations/?
Wenner, David. “Caregiver Shortage Threatens College Dream of Messiah Student with Cerebral Palsy.” The Patriot-News, The Patriot-News, 27 July 2022, https://www.pennlive.com/news/2022/07/caregiver-shortage-threatens-college-dream-of-messiah-student-with-cerebral-palsy.html.