Underpaid, over worked and on the brink of exhaustion, direct care professionals (DSP’s) need a break, and they need it now. While nurses and other frontline workers generally make a living wage, highly credentialed DSP’s are expected to take care of vulnerable individuals professionally and with high expectation despite making minimum or close to minimum wage. While this has been going on a long time, never have the factors aligned to put the whole support system at risk.
Imagine being an excited couple with a new baby, then finding out that child has significant and lifelong disabilities that need 24/7 care all day every day. You are still excited; you still love your child, but you quickly realize that everything has changed. You need help. In the beginning, you may be able to handle it as a couple, with family and friends. In home supports may help, and there is the public education system for a few years. Then as the person gains adulthood, many parents experience “the cliff.” Educational supports run out; the family is economically stressed or burnt out from having to stay home and constant caregiving. The at home situation is not ideal- adult children do not do will living with parents indefinitely whether they are disabled or not.
Agencies like LEAP (Life Enrichment Advancing People) are organized to assist individuals and families in situations like this. We focus of hiring the best possible people, credentialing and training in individualized supports designed for their specific needs. This is our mission, comprehensive quality supports that individuals thrive in and families are satisfied with. We have been generally successful by recruiting the right people, treating them fairly and encouraging their hearts to do good work. However, between 2007 and 2018, the rates of reimbursement for providers went down while inflation and the cost of living went up. There was some slight relief in 2018 and 2021, but all this really did was keep up with minimum wage. In normal times, staffing with quality was a challenge, but we maintained great staff by always investing everything we could in them. This tenet is no longer enough to keep us going.
These are not normal times. Despite doing everything within our means, we are approaching the point where we are unable to recruit and retain enough DSP’s to take care of the people who need us. COVID-19 continues to take its daily toll, and competition with for profit businesses who raise pay and benefits based on market conditions put us at a competitive disadvantage. Always on the fringe, we are now hit with vaccine mandate that left us no time to prepare and no religious or philosophical exemptions. From the beginning, we have advocated for staff and client vaccinations and have had good response. We cannot afford to lose those staff who, for reasons of their own, are reluctant to vaccinate, and are respectfully asking the Governor and DHHS to grant us a 45 day extension of the October 1st deadline in order to continue reorganize and prepare for the inevitable loss of staffing that will occur. I speak on behalf of LEAP and in solidarity with dozens of other providers, tens of thousands of DSP’s statewide and all the families and individuals that are impacted. The backup plan only works when you have staff, and/or other providers who can step up for relief or emergency placement.
The recipe for a perfect storm is extensive credentialing and high expectation for low wages plus competition with less skilled labor market paying significantly more plus the ongoing COVID crisis for direct care workers then mandating a vaccine a percentage of the workforce will not consider under any circumstances. LEAP fully supports vaccinations and understands the value of a vaccinated workforce and community. We cannot, however, manufacture DSP’s in an instant, under current circumstances, to replace those we are about to lose. We need a 45-day extension to the vaccine mandate, and 90 days would be ideal.
Darryl Wood, Executive Director, LEAP, Inc.