South Carolina must protect people with disabilities and those who care for them during COVID-19 and beyond
COLUMBIA – South Carolina disability rights, gender justice, and racial justice advocates joined forces to urge Governor McMaster to implement protections during COVID-19 and beyond for residents of congregate facilities for seniors and people with disabilities and those who care for them. AARP South Carolina (AARP), Able South Carolina (Able SC), the American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina (ACLU-SC), Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities, Inc. (P&A), Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network (WREN), and the YWCA of Greater Charleston (YWCA) signed on in support of this effort.
Recent reports indicate that more than 72,000 nursing home and long-term care institution residents and workers have died as a result of COVID-19, accounting for more than 35 percent of all pandemic-related deaths in the United States. South Carolina has seen nearly 1,400 deaths among residents and staff of long-term care facilities since April 3, representing about 40 percent of deaths overall in the state.
Across the nation, nursing homes with predominantly Black and Latinx residents were determined to be twice as likely to suffer the impacts of COVID-19 as those with predominantly white populations. South Carolina data reflects these racial disparities, as Black people account for nearly 44 percent of hospitalizations and 35 percent of reported COVID-19 deathswhile making up about a quarter of the state’s population.
“COVID-19 has shown us how dangerous it can be for individuals to live in an institution such as a nursing home, psychiatric hospital, or community care facility,” said Kimberly Tissot, Executive Director of Able South Carolina. “It is imperative that our state protects the patients and workers in these facilities and encourages people with disabilities to live independently in the community.”
Partners’ recommendations include:
- Prioritizing and expanding Home and Community Based Services (HCBS);
- Reducing the number of people confined in congregate facilities;
- Creating a South Carolina Olmstead plan that includes a strong commitment to affording people with disabilities opportunities to secure accessible and affordable housing, transportation, and fully integrated employment;
- Supporting advocacy organizations’ mandated access and community integration efforts;
- Supporting family members providing care;
- Expanding data collection and transparency around congregate settings;
- Providing additional support for on-site monitoring for abuse and neglect;
- Providing personal protective equipment for direct service professionals providing HCBS and workers in congregate facilities;
- Providing paid leave to workers in all settings; and
- Increasing worker pay and providing alternative housing to workers.
“Although the Americans with Disabilities Act became law in 1990 and the U.S. Supreme Court Olmstead decision of 1999 upheld the right of people to live in the community, many South Carolinians with disabilities are still in facilities today, and therefore at risk of getting COVID-19” said P&A Executive Director Beth Franco. “South Carolina must act to reduce the number of people in facilities and can do that by making it easier for people with disabilities to stay in their homes. South Carolina must increase its support of community services and develop and commit to an Olmstead plan as so many other states have already done. P&A is united with the ACLU and the Centers for Independent Living in urging the Governor to make this a priority and in offering our help.”
In addition to recommendations for protecting residents of congregate facilities, the letter elevates an imperative to meet the needs of people in the congregate care workforce. In South Carolina, sixty-four percent of the nearly 50,000 direct care workers are Black, and 93 percent are women. Recent data reflect South Carolina direct care workers’ median annual earnings were less than $16,000, and 44 percent relied on some type of public assistance.
“The economic and social infrastructure of our state depends on the paid and unpaid labor of women, now more than ever, said WREN CEO Ann Warner. “We must act to put the needs of women, particularly caregivers, at the center of the response to this public health crisis.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare our society’s failure to protect people who are already vulnerable as a result of pervasive injustices,” said ACLU-SC Executive Director Frank Knaack. “We urge Governor McMaster to safeguard the health of all people in South Carolina and prioritize those who are most at risk.”