Last week, Rochester got a warning.

Several home and community-based services — ABC, Possabilities, Cardinal, Bear Creek Services, Wing House, Hiawatha Homes, and ARSYS — joined forces for a press conference about the state of their industry. Their conclusion? A crisis looms.

These amazing organizations exist to help people with physical and intellectual disabilities to live more fulfilling lives. Since 2014, they’ve been licensed by the state Department of Human Services and are funded under one of Minnesota’s Medicaid waiver programs. They provide training and employment programs, crisis respite services, group homes, and complex home care for people with intellectual and physical disabilities.

Their services allow for a more healthy, active, and independent living for our state’s most vulnerable population.

The foundation of that system is a workforce of talented, hard-working and compassionate direct care workers — and those workers are leaving. Across the industry in Minnesota, there are an estimated 8,700 jobs open for direct care and staff, due to low starting wages and high turnover rates.

$12.32 per hour. Or lower. That’s the average wage for a direct service provider for one of these facilities. At Hiawatha Homes, the starting wage for a direct service provider is $11.40. Their turnover rate is at 65 percent. At Possabilities, the starting wage is somewhat higher, $12.07 per hour. Their turnover rate is 48 percent. See a trend emerging?

These wages are tied directly to state reimbursements set by the Legislature. Best Life Alliance, a statewide coalition of more than 130 home and community-based service companies, says a potential solution is legislation now moving through the Capitol. The organization, formerly known as the 5 Percent Solution, also pushed unsuccessfully for a wage increase in 2016.

The higher wages in Senate File 669 and House File 873 would allow more than 80,000 direct care workers across the state two 4-percent wage increases, one in 2017 and the other in 2018. The bills also develop a long-term plan for funding direct care workers’ health insurance by July 2019.

The long co-author list for the bills is a bipartisan coalition and our region is well-represented, with Reps. Peggy Bennett, Duane Sauke, Nels Pierson and Tina Liebling, and Sen. Carla Nelson.

This is a question of priorities. With a $1.6 billion tax surplus, the state has options. Some people want the money to go toward tax relief. Some want it to go toward more projects and services. We think the importance of the care provided at home and community-based facilities for people with disabilities — and the dignity of human life — trumps most other priorities.

 

This article was originally published in the Post-Bulletin on April 7, 2017.