Saving Jobs that Save Lives
Linda Rosenberg, MSW
But there is another tradition that we share today. It calls upon us never to be indifferent toward despair. It
commands us never to turn away from helplessness. It directs us never to ignore or to spurn those who suffer
untended in a land that is bursting with abundance.
— President Lyndon B. Johnson, July 30, 1965
More than half a century ago, when he signed legislation establishing Medicare and Medicaid,
President Johnson paid tribute to Harry Truman, who believed that every citizen should have the
opportunity for good health and that all should be protected against the economic effects of illness.
More than half a century later, we are continuing the conversation about what kind of society we
want to be and how we want to support the most vulnerable among us.
If there is a silver lining in the cloud of partisan rancor about health care in this country, it is this: we
are talking. We are talking, in particular, about Medicaid and the role it plays in keeping people well.
People like Jessica.
Jessica told me she began drinking at age nine and smoking marijuana in middle school. When
others were celebrating their sweet 16, she was shooting up.
“I followed the drug,” Jessica said. “Wherever the drug was, I was.”
Then she got lucky. Integrity House in Newark, N.J., found her. Staff helped her get the
Medicaid that pays for her therapy and her medication. Jessica said, “I don’t want to think about
what will happen to me, or to any of the women here, if we lose Medicaid. Without beneﬁts, I
don’t know if I will last.”
Millions of people rely on Medicaid so they can “last.” They rely on Medicaid, and they rely on
the providers Medicaid funds; men and women who get up every morning because they want to
make a difference in someone’s life. This has to be their primary motivation, because they certainly
don’t do it for the money.
According to a National Council 2011 Salary Survey,
an assistant manager at Burger King
earned nearly $3000 more a year than a direct care worker in a 24-hour residential treatment center.
And the situation isn’t improving. In 2015, food service managers made a mean hourly wage of
$4 more an hour than a mental health counselor.
Last year, the Surgeon General released a report
underscoring the fact that addictions are
chronic disorders that require a continuum of prevention, treatment, and recovery supports. Yet
registered nurses working in an addictions treatment facility earn, on average, nearly $15,000 less
than the national average for all nurses.
Address correspondence to Linda Rosenberg, MSW, National Council for Behavioral Health, Rockville, MD, USA.
Journal of Behavioral Health Services & Research, 2017. 349–350. c
2017 National Council for Behavioral Health. DOI 10.1007/
Saving Jobs that Save Lives ROSENBERG 349