Attendant-care program made ‘Boro feel like family, not a nursing home

Category:  Opinions
Thursday, October 11th, 2018 at 8:00 AM

I stumbled across an advertisement for Edinboro University four years ago, on the cusp of my 22nd birthday. This was two years after a diving accident had severed part of my spine and left me paralyzed from the shoulder down. 

This means that I can’t do much on my own; dressing, brushing my teeth, eating. 

These things are all difficult. When I arrived at Edinboro, I realized I was a part of something special.

Students from all over the country (Oregon to Maine) come to the small town of Edinboro every year for its Office of Accessibility Services (OAS) capabilities. The OAS program has been able to provide 24/7 care to students with disabilities since 1974.  This means a person with limited or no use of their limbs can go to school without having to worry about the quality, timeliness, and consistency of their care. At the push of a button, they can receive help provided by the university’s attendant-care program, a smaller sub-division within OAS. 

As of the last few weeks, though, Edinboro University Interim President Michael Hannan informed the students that the attendant-care is being dissolved and replaced at the end of this year by separate agencies.

He wrote: “Regulatory changes are impeding the University’s ability to directly offer this type of program after this academic year. Instead, a local service coordinator will be located on campus to assist students in obtaining services.” In short, this means care is being outsourced to various care agencies around Erie. This has resulted in students and parents with questions that have been met with vague answers. 

There are about 30 acronyms, changes in the law and university budgetary problems that surround its termination. The university will say that it’s good. Students will be able to learn to work with care agencies and Edinboro will still have housing for the disabled, which is much more than they need to do.

However, we must not forget our history.  In the ‘70s, the Pennsylvania Department of Education made a call to all the state schools to make a campus that was completely wheelchair accessible. Edinboro answered the call. Edinboro took the responsibility of providing for the most vulnerable. With that, we must not forget that with agency care comes problems.

Paying for staffing and receiving quality care is difficult process. This process is especially arduous for those who need the most help, as they need more people and hours. However, part of being disabled is learning to deal with agency care — finding people to help you do everyday things.  If you want good care, it is a skill that you need to be proficient in to survive. It requires tons of paperwork, a tight schedule, time management, patience, people skills and the ability to judge character. These are skills every disabled student must eventually learn.

 Students like me chose Edinboro for precisely this reason: so we did not have to deal with the problems and time consumption agency care is fraught with. Having to actively manage your care with a five class schedule and impromptu activities would be difficult to say the least, and completely impossible to say the most. 

The OAS students are not here for intellectual fulfillment or simply a chance to get out of the house, they are here to earn a degree, have a genuine college experience and get a job.  It is the current workers in the attendant-care program that provide enough constancy for the most vulnerable of us to receive and execute a quality education.

Edinboro has elected to bring in A Bridge for Independence (ABI) to systematize the new plan. ABI will organize students on a case-by-case basis and direct the “comparable services”, which are the multiple agencies that provide home care. 

Jordan Allen, a senior at Edinboro who utilizes the attendant-care program stated:  “It is tough to say whether agency care is comparable to the attendant-care program.  I have used agency care in the past and it is not always reliable. People call off frequently. Often times they can’t find people to staff, and if they do, the time it takes to find a replacement is not conducive to maintaining a tight schedule, which is required to succeed at the university.”

OAS will still exist providing resources and assistance in other ways to students, however, many students feel it will be a shell of its former self. Students, who need care spontaneously — if they drop their phone, need help with the bathroom, or simply need their arm lifted to reach their joystick — will be most affected. More importantly, students who have medical necessities are even more concerned.

Mary Fetzner, the registered nurse in charge of the current program, responded to the changes: “Several students and parents of students have attempted to explain outside services are not reliable; there is no guarantee that someone is going to be available…has anyone even addressed the need for assistance in the event of fire drills or worse?”

The OAS students are being given the opportunity to ask questions to ABI and people in the administration, but even if their questions are answered, there is no telling if the new services will be successful, effective, or safe. The students overwhelmingly believe it won’t and though the university undertook months of interviews and research to choose ABI as their primary service provider, there is no way the university can be sure of its success until implementation. The people who have worked in the attendant-care program, some for 30 years, are losing their jobs as of May 2019. More importantly, Edinboro is losing them. They are what separate a quality student from someone having to call an agency because their aide didn’t show up in the morning. They are the difference between being able to attend a meeting with your sorority and sitting in your own refuse. To me, they are the difference between feeling like I’m with a family and feeling like I’m in a nursing home.

The diagnosis for spinal cord injuries vary greatly. An “incomplete injury” means your spinal cord is partially severed, which gives you a chance to regain movement. A “complete injury” means there is little to no chance for return of function below the level of where your spinal cord was severed. Over the past four years the university has made changes to the OAS program that I disagree with, things that made it seem incomplete. However, I always felt it could regain function. Now another change is complete. The attendant-care program that has provided stability, is severed, and I don’t believe its function will ever be the same. 

 A journalist is supposed to report facts.  

Here are a few: 

 My name is Peter Brady. I can barely move my arms. I have a 3.74 GPA, will complete my bachelor’s degree of communication in May and the attendant-care program has given me the opportunity to thrive. 

I deserve an educational experience where I feel safe. Everyone does.

And if all this seems a bit dramatic? You’ve never dealt with agency care.

Peter Brady can be reached at voices.spectator@gmail.com.

Tags: voices, opinions, osd

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