Raise pay for direct care workers to fill gaps caused by coronavirus

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April 30, 2020 | syracuse.com

Imagine being paid $11 to $16 per hour to work an eight-hour shift in a group home with three or four people who are autistic and/or with significant intellectual disabilities in Syracuse or Dallas or Nashville. If one person in the home is infected, that individual needs to self-isolate in a bedroom. You have to work with them and the two or three others for these eight hours. They are essentially bored and are exhibiting more exacerbated behavior because they have typically received a community-based program or a part-time job. You wear a mask, work alone or possibly one other staff person and then go home to your family.

Now you must self-isolate from your children and spouse. Your hope is not to become infected yourself. However, if you are infected, you have to stay home, or go to the hospital.

Meanwhile, a person in the hospitality industry got laid off. They are now collecting 60% unemployment benefits and a small augmented bonus because of the virus. This person also receives their $1,200 federal relief check. The hospitality person has been told to stay at home. Most probably, you would not seek another job while you are waiting to return to your old job.

This begins to reduce new staff to fill the ensuing void in the group home.

As a national nonprofit provider, I remain concerned that the direct support caregivers who are working in an infected home will not return to work and will opt out to use their paid or unpaid leave. This will place those in need of care without staff.

There are well over 620,000 staff throughout the country, employed by thousands of large and small nonprofits alike, who remain indebted to these heroes that need recognition. They need more than being thanked or recognized. They need to want to come back to work.

The agencies paying the direct care workers who are providing these critical supports and services to those with significant disabilities are confined to very tight margins based on rates established by the individual states, in concert with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Medicaid is the funding mechanism. It is a partnership between the federal and state government. They need to act and augment this rate only for direct care staff as soon as possible.

If they do, a significant crisis can be avoided. There needs to be very quick and decisive action. Maryland, for example, proposed to temporarily raise rates for direct support staff if they were working with an infected home. It has been under review and no action has taken place. This needs to be approved and replaced throughout all 50 states. It would be for direct care staff only and it would be temporary. More and more staff are leaving and not coming back. Retention is key.

Meanwhile, it is no surprise that there is an increasingly larger drought from the applicant pool for direct care staff paid $11 an hour.

If a direct care staff is working with infected persons with autism, intellectual or other significant disabilities, they need to receive no less than $20 to $25 per hour. This is temporary and essential for maintaining supervision in the thousands of homes throughout the country.

This is most critical to the health and safety of person with disabilities. The direct support professional is an essential employee.