#EveryoneDeservesCare: Julie's Story

September 28, 2022 / #EveryoneDeservesCare

Julie McComas has been providing services for people with disabilities for three decades.

“I got my start working with people with disabilities directly when I was in college,” she shares. During this time, she worked in a group home and with a group for teen moms with disabilities.

After these early experiences, Julie continued her career in the field of disability services. She has worked for the Bureau of Disability Determination and the Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation, both of which are now a part of Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD). She has also worked independently as a consultant for the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities (DODD). Currently, she consults for Griffin Hammis Associates, an international group focusing on employment services for people with disabilities.

Julie started providing services through her own company, Altitude Initiative, in 2014. Originally, its primary focus was providing employment services for people with disabilities. However, Julie eventually expanded the outreach of her organization to include more 1:1 community focus support. She also added a non-medical transportation service.

Julie states that part of the reason she started Altitude Initiative was because of the people with disabilities she worked with as a state employee.

“We were just constantly hearing from people about how they just wanted access to the community; they just wanted to be a part of the community.” She explains that many of the people she worked with wanted to find employment and live more independently.

Julie’s mission in starting Altitude Initiative was to provide services tailored to each individual with a disability to help them achieve their goals. She wanted to help people answer the question: “What do you want and where do you want to fit in?”

Julie describes the work she does as rewarding. She values the relationships that she and her staff built with the people they served. She also enjoyed witnessing the impact her company had on the lives of people with disabilities.

“Seeing people have a goal and reaching it with the support they want and the support they need has been awesome.”

However, unfortunately Julie had to close Altitude Initiative in June 2022. She notes that the main issue was the shortage of direct care workers, which was compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic. Julie tried to maintain a supportive environment for employees but cites the lack of funding as a major issue.

“It’s been very difficult to hire people and to be able to pay them what they want to be paid now, and what they should be paid now.”

Julie tried to launch hiring initiatives, but these were not enough to rectify the issue. She remembers one time where she hired ten individuals, and only two reported to work.

“I’m filling in the gaps. As the owner, I wasn’t going to let the people we serve not get what they needed.”

However, Julie’s gap-filling resulted in her working 16-hour days almost every day for the last two years. She shares that this grueling work schedule has resulted in her facing long-term physical health issues. Eventually, Julie realized that the company was unsustainable. She sent out a 90-day notice to her clients that Altitude Initiative would be closing.

Julie wishes that people understood that direct care service workers are skilled workers. They need to be equipped to handle crisis situations and administer medication. They also need the unique ability to foster community and build relationships.

“We’re asking them to be superhuman,” states Julie. “We put a lot of trust in them, and we ask them to do a lot, and we hold them very accountable for their mistakes, and yet we just don’t pay them for that kind of work.”

Julie believes that the issue of wages is particularly difficult as so many direct care workers are single women with children. “I think that many direct support workers get into this field because of a passion for service,” reflects Julie. “But passion doesn’t pay the bills.”

After the closing of Altitude Initiative, Julie is spending more time with her family. However, she continues her work as a consultant. She also volunteers her time to some of the people who previously received services through Altitude Initiative, helping with daily tasks such as transportation and grocery shopping.

“I love these people,” shares Julie. “The staffing crisis didn’t stop, it’s worse now that we’re not in service.”

#EveryoneDeservesCare shares real stories from disabled Ohioans that have been affected by the Direct Care Workforce Crisis in order to educate the population and those in power to make change on the dire nature of this issue. Direct Care Workers are people who provide home care services, such as certified nurses, home health aides, personal care aides, caregivers and companions. Factors contributing to a lack of care for disabled Ohioans range from low-pay, inadequate incentives to remain in a care field, and lack of sufficient funding for service systems. Due to the impact of the crisis, disabled Ohioans have gone without their basic needs and wants being met for years. Many have either been forced into nursing facilities or other institutions or have endured a lower quality of life and risks to their health and safety.

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