Poll: Disability service industry cut services in face of staffing shortage | Friday Morning Coffee

January 14, 2022

By John L. Micek for the Pennsylvania Capital-Star 

The industry says it has spent months pleading for help from the Wolf administration

Good Friday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

new poll drives home the challenges faced by Pennsylvania’s disability service providers as they contend with staffing shortages brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and other challenges.

Nearly 50 percent of the 100 disability and autism providers who responded to the survey commissioned by the Rehabilitation and Community Providers Association said they’d reduced services because of staffing shortages.

In a statement, the trade group said the results of the poll, conducted last September, underline the need for increased state support for an industry that works with some of the state’s most vulnerable residents.

“The data collected in the survey builds on the mountain of anecdotal evidence about the negative effects of COVID on human services providers,” Richard Edley, the trade group’s president and CEO said in a statement.

“The pandemic only exacerbated challenges facing social services agencies, and the compounded effect has the most significant repercussions for those in need of supports and services,” Edley continued.

Among the poll’s chief findings:

  • “Nearly 50% of responding intellectual disability and autism providers reduced service capacity due to staffing shortages for residential and community-based programs, reducing access to critical services for vulnerable Pennsylvanians.
  • “Despite experiencing growth in outpatient service delivery, close to 50% of the responding mental health providers reduced their caseloads due to staffing shortages. The need for mental health care is far exceeding providers’ ability to staff these programs.
  • “Despite the overwhelming need for direct support professionals, these individuals separated from their positions within three months of hire at an annual turnover rate of more than 130%.
  • “During the three-month snapshot, only 10% of the 26,000 applicants were hired. Many cited the low pay, difficult work, uncertain schedules, and a high no-show rate for job interviews.
  • “The vacancy rate for direct support professional positions was 24%, resulting in the need to pay an overtime rate for a third of all work hours,” and,
  • “While the mean hourly wage for direct support professionals was $14.98, it was still well below starting wages for SheetzMcDonald’sAmazon, and other entry-level jobs,” the survey found.

Industry advocates have spent months pleading with the Wolf administration for increased support, asking the administration and state lawmakers to tap the $5 billion in banked federal stimulus money to help them raise wages and restore the services brought on by an industry-wide staffing crisis.

In November, the Democratic administration released the broad contours of its plan to spend $1.2 billion in American Rescue Act funds to shore up home- and community-based services offered through the state’s Medicaid program. Federal officials recently approved the plan, clearing the way for the funding.

“We have an unprecedented opportunity with this federal funding to support those who have been supporting individuals and families in our communities throughout the pandemic,” acting state Human Services Secretary Meg Snead said in a Dec. 11 statement. “With this funding, we are immediately investing in recruitment and retention of Pennsylvania’s caring workforce, which is crucial to providing home and community-based services.”

While providers say they welcome the $1.2 billion infusion, they noted that it will not “close the gap for the other chronically underfunded programs and services that rely on reimbursement rates to establish hourly wages.”

“Without additional funding, wages will continue to stagnate, further entrenching staffing challenges and causing those receiving services to suffer most,” RCPA said in its statement.

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