Published on 12/16/21 – Pennsylvania Capital-Star
By 17 statewide disability community leaders
At a time when PA has billions of dollars in federal money plus state treasury receipts dramatically outperforming projections, the Wolf Administration is failing to fully address the collapse of the community system that provides critical services for people with intellectual disability and autism. The Administration’s actions may have tragic consequences for people with disabilities.
Congress and the President have asked governors to rescue disability programs by increasing funding for the community system’s Direct Support Professionals. DSPs provide lifesaving, caring supports for persons with disabilities, and this goal was a key element of the passage of the American Rescue Plan. It is also a vital provision of the pending Build Back Better legislation. Our Commonwealth has received money to achieve this goal, but doing so requires leadership by our Governor to use both the federal dollars and PA’s increasing revenues for this purpose.
Instead of responding to the crisis, the Wolf Administration has presented a plan that fails on several fronts:
- Fails to strengthen community services as required by federal law.
- Fails to fund a wage that will hire enough skilled workers to operate community services.
- Fails to offer a pathway to reduce an up to 60% turnover in community program staffing.
- Fails to provide rates for sufficient staffing for programs serving people with medically and behaviorally complex issues.
- Fails to restore service to 6,500 people who have lost supports in the last 18 months.
- Fails to provide Equal Pay for Equal Work – 30% less than state workers.
- Fails to support the 5,000 people in crisis at this moment.
PA requires community programs to provide the gold standard of quality supports. Providers are expected to hire people who can deliver mental health support; teach people how to obtain and hold jobs; administer medication; support people with severe behavioral challenges and medical fragility; be trained in first aid, CPR, and other life-saving procedures; and work with a state bureaucracy that requires reams of documentation each day for every daily activity as well as all medical and behavioral events.
Underfunding has resulted in a daily struggle to find qualified workers with prior training or understanding of people with disabilities. This challenge has a direct impact on the quality of services, and has resulted in significant additional training and education expenses for providers. In addition, 12,000+ people are now on endless waiting lists. 5,000+ people are in emergency status. 6,500+ people have lost services in the last 18 months.
Families of people with disabilities, service providers, and DSPs join in asking the Governor to fully fund the $541 million needed to begin salvaging this system.
This is not a difficult concept. It is within reach. But first Governor Wolf must lead by revising disability rates to stop the further collapse of this system.
The Governor has repeatedly promised service providers that he would protect people with disabilities and their DSPs. We remain deeply disappointed in the actions to date.
Our Governor can either rescue people or leave them exposed to significant risk. We implore Governor Wolf to avoid the collapse of the intellectual disability system on his watch. Thousands of Pennsylvanians with disabilities depend on his leadership.
Those signing below are leaders of intellectual disability and autism service providers:
Tony Beltran, President/CEO, Pittsburgh Mercy Health System, Pittsburgh
Terence G. Blackwell, Jr, President/CEO, Chimes International Limited, Baltimore, MD
Diane Conway, CEO, MAX Association, Conshohocken
Rita Gardner, President/CEO of Melmark of Pennsylvania, New England, and Carolinas
Tine Hansen-Turton, President and CEO of Woods Services, Langhorne, PA
William Harriger, President/CEO of Verland Foundation, Sewickley
Karen D. Jacobsen, CEO of Emmaus Community of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County
Dr. Susan Latenbacher, President/CEO of Lark Enterprises Inc., New Castle
Susan Leyburn, CEO of LifePath Inc., Bethlehem
Lorraine Livosky, Executive Director of Diversified Family Services, Hermitage
Christopher Shay, President/CEO of McGuire Memorial, New Brighton
Ruth Siegfried, Founder and President/CEO of InVision Human Services, Wexford/Reading/Harrisburg
Kim Sonafelt, CEO of Mainstay Life Services, Pittsburgh
Will Stennett, Chief Officer of Developmental Disabilities & HSCBS Policy, Voices of Independence, Pittsburgh
Stephen H. Suroviec, President/CEO, Achieva, Pittsburgh
Marisol Valentin, Executive Director, McAuley Ministries, Pittsburgh
Charles Walczak, CEO of Erie Homes for Children and Adults, Inc. (EHCA), Erie