The Washington Legislature should resist calls to delay implementation of Initiative 1029's training requirements for long-term-care workers, writes David Rolf, president of the SEIU Healthcare 775NW.

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IN 2008, voters overwhelmingly passed an initiative that requires long-term-care workers — who care for seniors and people with disabilities — to be screened, trained and certified. SEIU Healthcare 775NW, which represents more than 40,000 home-care workers across the state, sponsored Initiative 1029 because we believe that even our most vulnerable seniors and person with disabilities deserve a chance to live independently in their own homes, whenever possible.

I-1029 requires home-care workers, who typically earn $10 to $11 per hour, to pass a criminal-background check, receive 75 hours of training within their first four months of work, and pass a certification exam. Instead of accepting these common-sense standards, a few of the affected businesses — private, for-profit companies that cater exclusively to higher-income patients — have decided to resist [“I-1029’s unintended consequences causing seniors to lose caregivers,” Opinion, May 17].

Despite years to prepare, they made little effort to certify their workers, instead concentrating on trying to subvert the new training standards by lobbying the Legislature to overturn the voters’ will. For the sake of vulnerable seniors and people with disabilities across the state, legislators should reject these arguments and enforce basic training and certification standards.

We owe it to those in need. Thousands of seniors and people with disabilities rely on home-care workers to remain in their own homes. Washington has one of the most respected and cost-effective community-care systems in the country — unlike in most states, thousands of our neighbors get the assistance they need to live at home, rather than being forced into a nursing home. That benefits both consumers and taxpayers; home care is dramatically cheaper than institutional care.

Until I-1029 passed, the screening and training of home caregivers was clearly inadequate. Nursing assistants in nursing homes were required by federal law to get a minimum of 75 hours of training and pass a certification test, while community-based caregivers were required to get much less training. At the private-pay, for-profit companies, caregivers had no training or criminal-background check requirement at all.

That’s why the Alzheimer’s Association of Western and Central Washington, Washington State’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg and many advocates for seniors backed Initiative 1029. After a vigorous debate, the initiative passed with more “yes” votes than any ballot measure or candidate in state history.

Because of the budget crisis, we agreed to a delay the standards, which finally went into effect in January of this year. But a minority of for-profit companies still refuse to implement it. Now that the 120-day training deadline is approaching — and their clients are at risk — they want the Legislature to suspend the measure again.

The companies’ claim that training is unavailable is simply untrue. The Department of Social and Health Services maintains a network of community trainers. One well-established provider offers a convenient Web-based training program accessible throughout the state. Other providers are willing to schedule classes in any geographic area as long as there is sufficient demand from companies. The courses are generally affordable and are offered in multiple languages.

We recognize the budget challenges facing the state. That’s why we’ve offered a compromise that continues core training and certification while reducing costs by more than 60 percent. Further delay of the training requirement and certification for in-home-care workers, however, would be a step backward for the thousands who need quality home care.

Let’s not put our most vulnerable at risk to protect the profit margins of a few companies.

David Rolf is the president of SEIU Healthcare 775NW, which represents long-term care workers in Washington state.