Last week we informed staff, case managers, guardians and the residents of an update that we had long tried to avoid, and one that came with great sadness. We gave 60-day notice that we are ending services to 17 individuals because four of ACR’s homes are closing due to the staffing crisis.
The reason for these closures is that we simply don’t have enough staff to meet the critical needs of the people we support. As you know, we have had a severe shortage of staff for several years which has been compounded by the COVID pandemic. We have created various initiatives to retain and recruit staff, to adjust our staffing levels and to consolidate programs. Before we got to the point of closing these four programs we had also contacted Governor Walz several times since the beginning of November seeking assistance from the National Guard, but with no response. You can read our December Plea for Help here!
The real foundational problem behind our staffing disaster is that resident funding no longer allows us to effectively compete with other employers that can offer significantly more pay for significantly easier work. As the workforce crisis has deepened, entry level wages for restaurant and retail work have risen sharply, with their starting wages now around $17-$22 per hour. In contrast, our funding is much lower for the challenging, complicated work of direct care. In order to have any hope of recruiting and retaining a sufficient workforce, we need to be on the leading edge for entry level pay for direct care wages. Unless this problem is addressed with a meaningful increase in funding, our present staffing disaster will continue and we can expect more group home closures.
It seems clear that the ONLY thing that will bring about the kind of change needed is passionate and persistent advocacy from people with disabilities and those who support them. We must be bold with our elected state officials NOW for the legislative session that begins 1/31/2022.
Here are some talking points to share with state legislators:
- Minnesota is anticipating a budget surplus of $7.7 billion. Providers of services for people with disabilities urgently need some of this surplus to help get direct care wages to $22/hour.
- Providers of disability services can’t compete with other employers who are offering starting pay of $17-$22 for entry-level positions. In contrast, funding for people with disabilities is much lower per hour for the challenging work of direct care.
- The people with disabilities whom we support are some of the most vulnerable in our society. They rely on full care support,often with extensive medical equipment. Staff must meet the physical, social and medical needs of these individuals. Staff order their medications, assist them in getting to appointments, shop for their groceries and prepare meals. People with disabilities depend on staff to provide 24/7 care so that their basic needs can be met.
Please contact your own state legislators as well as the legislators of the home where you are a direct care staff or where your family member lives. Here is the list of contact information of legislators for each of ACR’s homes. If you need contact information for your own legislators, here’s a link to full contact information for all Minnesota senators and representatives. We also suggest you forward your letters to the following three people to get our concerns on their agendas: Rep. Melissa Hortman, Speaker of the House, email@example.com, Senator Jeremy Miller, President of the Senate, firstname.lastname@example.org, and Governor Walz, via this online form: https://mn.gov/governor/contact/ . Here is a template you may edit if you choose!
Here is the Legislative Agenda from ARRM (an association of more than 200 providers, businesses and advocates in community-based services for people with disabilities.) We encourage everyone to join ARRM’s virtual rally on March 8 from 9:30-10:30 a.m. via Zoom, followed by opportunities to meet with your legislators. The headline of an editorial on 12/5/2021 in the StarTribune by Sue Schettle, the CEO of ARRM reads, “Many providers are one shift away from seeing systems crumble.” This is not an exaggeration. It is clear that we need an all-out effort to contact legislators to let them know the seriousness of the staffing crisis for people with disabilities.
Thank you for all your efforts and support on behalf of people with disabilities!