As executive director of Garden Center Services, I can say that this challenging past year of the pandemic has been especially stressful for community-based agencies like ours that provide residential support to adults with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities.
GCS currently serves 140 individuals who are either living in one of our 12 community living arrangements or at home with their families.
Our group homes are located in several southwest Cook County communities, with one home located in DuPage County. I am so proud of our staff who have continued to provide a supportive, stimulating environment within our homes while having to focus so diligently on keeping persons safe from the COVID-19 virus. The time, energy and resources that we have expended to accomplish this have been exhaustive but worth every effort if it means keeping our wonderful participants safe and healthy.
One component of our overall protection strategy was to get as many of our staff vaccinated as possible. As healthcare workers providing attention to the population we serve, our staff was designated 1A as it relates to receiving the shots. Initially, many of our staff, just like the general public, had concerns and questions about the real benefits and effectiveness of the vaccines, especially because they were developed in an expedited timeframe.
The staff willing to commit initially to receive the vaccine was somewhere in the low to mid 30s percentile range. Through many one-on-one conversations, the accessibility of informative educational material and videos, an interval of time during which the vaccine has been proven safe, and the effect of peer expectations, I am pleased to share that currently over 85 percent of Garden Center Services’ staff have been vaccinated! This is a real achievement, and I’m hopeful more staff will come forward.
The staff has been able to take advantage of vaccinations provided by the Stickney Public Health Department and also at clinics that have been held right at the agency’s State Road day program location. A big thank you goes out to Associate Executive Director Cindy Haworth, who worked tirelessly to establish relationships with the Walgreens and CIMPAR pharmacies, and to her team that helped coordinate and staff the five clinics we’ve had thus far. We are so incredibly grateful for the large number of our employees and the individuals we support, both in our living arrangements and the community, who were able to get their shots. This is such a demonstration of #GardenCenterStrong.
In addition to being safe, we also want our staff to be adequately paid. For years, our agency has been part of the They Deserve More coalition, which has been working to increase the hourly wages of our staff. This year, we are asking our legislators to follow through on the state’s obligation and to fully fund an in-depth survey-supported rate structure that would finally allow Illinois to demonstrate its investment in individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities, their families and their direct-care staff.
A study commissioned and funded by the state, and carried out over the last two years by an independent, professional organization, has clearly identified the disparity between our current level of state funding and what it actually costs to provide the services we offer. There are currently resolutions in both the Senate (SB169) and the House (HB194) that, if passed, would be a real game changer for agencies such as ours.
Please take the time to voice your support of these bills to your state legislator. As always, thank you for your incredible support of our agency and the incredible persons we are honored to serve.