Things are in flux.
I guess they have been for a while now. And by things, I mean my work life.
I only recently celebrated my first anniversary being back in the position of Therapeutic Day Treatment Counselor with a company that I had previously worked for, prior to my time on staff with my church. Now, I’m sorry (or excited) to say it’s time for another change.
The truth is, this wasn’t a part of the plan.
When I got back into a groove with counseling, I found a place to live in Roanoke. This, to me, signaled that I was committed to this career and ready to give it my all for the long haul.
And that’s kind of when my problems began. I’m not saying that moving to Roanoke was a problem. I love my apartment. In fact, I’d be good if I never have to move again. But, you know, the company that owns my building expects me to pay rent each month if I’m to continue living there. I know… it’s a little much to ask, but I forebear.
I chose the apartment I did because I knew I’d be able to afford it. And I knew that based on my experience on the job throughout the entirety of the last school year.
Here’s basically how I was paid throughout last year. My initial work agreement entitled me to a baseline salary as a 12 month employee. This meant that, during the school year, as long as I was working with four kids in my caseload, I would earn that base salary. And I could expect to be paid through school breaks, snow days, etc. On top of that, I was entitled to extra pay whenever I had more than four children on my caseload. Since I worked at a school where each of us (the counselors) averaged six or seven kids at a time, I knew that making rent each month would be no problem.
And then things changed.
Everything that we do is pretty much funded by Medicaid. Now… I don’t know how Medicaid works. I don’t know how it ties in with private insurance providers. But I do know that the powers that be in both of these areas of healthcare provision have made it increasingly difficult for a TDT Counselor to do his or her job.
It has become harder to get children approved for services. Once they have been approved, they are only given up to three months before they’re expected to be discharged or reauthorized. In the past, it was nothing for a kid to be approved for six months or a year. And as difficult as it is to get a child approved the first time, to get them reauthorized is doubly hard.
That meant that, instead of beginning the school year with six or seven kids apiece, my co-counselor and I began with only four. Total. In the entire school. If you’re following along, that means we weren’t even, technically, earning our baseline salaries.
And things haven’t improved. In fact, they’ve gotten worse.
The school I was in finally saw enough of a caseload for both counselors to have five or six kids. Which started feeling good because it meant that we would start seeing that bonus pay and then I would be able to get through the coming months without dipping into savings anymore.
I should learn not to get excited about such things.
During these past few months, amidst all the changes coming down the line for TDT, people have been jumping ship. In spite of constantly being “reassured” by the powers that be that our jobs were safe and secure and that, even though TDT was changing, we could count on continued employment.
After seeing that “reassurance” in big, bold red letters in several emails, I was reminded of a line from Hamlet… “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Obviously not the same thing, but those powers that be were pushing our job security a little too hard for it to be true. Like they were compensating for something.
Like I said, a lot of people were leaving. This led to me being asked to move to a different school. This is never a comfortable thing in the middle of a school year. Believe me, it’s happened to me before.
A week later, the entire TDT staff found out that our company would be changing the way they were paying us. Remember earlier where I said we were getting a baseline salary? That has come to an end. Now we’re gonna be hourly employees. Sounds good on paper.
Because when you do the math, one has the potential to make more at the hourly rate than one did under the previous baseline salary. Note, that doesn’t take into account the bonus pay we used to get when working with extra kids.
But here’s how they determine that we’ve worked an eight hour day… If we’re billing 12 units in a day, that’s how we get our eight hours. Actually… it’s 7.5 hours at our “direct service” rate plus half an hour at minimum wage.
Do I have to explain units? It’s kinda complicated. Ugh… all right. How long you work with a kid in a day determines how many units you can bill for them. Two hours is one unit. Three hours is two units. Five hours is three units. Clear as mud?
I know, it’s like keeping score in tennis. Or trying to figure out the exchange rate in that crazy currency that they use in the Harry Potter books.
Anyway, when you think about it, the ideal would be to have four kids that you could bill three units each per day. Then you get your 40 hours a week and, like I said, it kinda looks good enough on paper.
Problem comes when the powers that be use that word “potential.” Because no one can guarantee that anyone will have enough kids on their caseload to be able to bill 12 units per day.
Let me also mention that one of the selling points to this new deal was the potential for overtime. Now, overtime sounds great, right? You get paid time and a half… Except that, no, that’s not really how it’s gonna work for us.
We had a follow up meeting a week after it was announced that we were going hourly. This was to help answer questions that we may have had. Well, the slideshow that our supervisors shared with us spelled out that, at most, TDT would get 12 units per day. Which means if I’m billing on five kids at three units in a day (15 units), I don’t actually see another dime. Good bye bonus pay.
No, if we want to earn that time and a half overtime pay, we would have to take on cases outside of the school. In a child’s home, perhaps. But you know what that really boils down to? That’s not overtime. That’s taking a second job, really. Something part-time on the side to help make ends meet.
Please don’t interpret this as an attempt to bad mouth my current employers. I’m sure that there are some folks out there for whom this new way of compensating its employees will work just fine. I’m just not one of them.
I can be flexible. Move me to another school. Tell me that you need me to split my time between two or even three schools in order to get my 12 units per day. That’s fine. But do not tell me that I will have to pick up a second job under the illusion that I’m only working one job to get my 12 units. It’s not fair to have to put in a full day of work at school and only get paid for part of it. And then be told that, to get my full day’s pay, I’ll need to put in a few more hours in the afternoon/evening at some kid’s house.
I’m incredibly grateful that another opportunity has basically fallen into my lap. It’s with a company that I’d never heard of prior to a few weeks ago and it’s a job that I’ve never done before. It’s still in the mental health services field, but I won’t be working with children anymore. I’ll be working with… *gulp*… adults.
My final day in my current position is next Friday. I’m trying not to feel guilty for leaving. And I shouldn’t feel guilty for leaving. Because the truth of the matter is, I have to do what I think is best in order to meet my own needs. And if my current employer is incapable of meeting my needs financially, a change must come.
Change is hard. It can be scary, but I’m honestly not scared. Though, I did have a moment a couple days ago… I was sitting at home and the gravity of sending my resignation letter came over me. Even though I’m feeling secure in my next steps, I couldn’t help thinking, What have I done?
I’ve done what I needed to do to make sure I can keep paying rent… keep paying bills… keep paying student loans. I mean, I don’t really want to do that last one, but it’s nice to have a decent credit score. Not that I need it… not like I’m trying to buy a house any time
soon ever. Remember how I said I never want to move again. I meant it.
Anyway, that’s what I’ve done.
Wish me luck. December’s gonna be crazy.