Community Supports 2020


by Nancy Knoebel, CEO

Public Health Workforce Crisis – Action is Needed

Many businesses across all industries are experiencing a workforce crisis exacerbated by the pandemic. The economy is experiencing an all-time high of job openings, but there are not enough available workers able, or willing, to fill them. For the healthcare and disability services industry that relies on direct service providers to support seniors and individuals with disabilities, the current workforce crisis exacerbates a situation that has been worsening over recent years. Service providers were already desperately working to recruit and retain employees to fill this critical role.

Direct Service Providers (DSPs) are an essential workforce providing critical supports to seniors, individuals with disabilities, and others who require personal care support. They provide assistance with daily living, such as personal care, homemaking and transportation, as well as clinically-based services that encompass skilled nursing, rehabilitation and home health.

A person fulfilling the role of a Direct Service Provider successfully must have the intrinsic desire to perform this type of work. It is highly personal work and relationship-intensive. These employees are the paid caregivers, who, along with unpaid relatives and friends, make it possible for many seniors and persons with disabilities to live at home or in other community settings. They are integral to the life of the individual they support, aiding them in leading richer and fuller lives and achieving greater independence, choice, and opportunity.

The DSP workforce crisis results from multiple contributing factors, such as low wages, limited or lack of benefits, little opportunity for career advancement, high turnover, and weak economic security. The average starting wage for a DSP is $11.62 per hour, equal to $24,170 annually working full-time. This limited pay rate is due to inadequate state and federal funding.

How can service providers compete to recruit and retain individuals who want to do this work when warehouses and retail outlets are offering a higher hourly rate? How do the individuals dedicated to doing this work choose their avocation over supporting themselves or their family? The non-service sector has grown tremendously in the Lehigh Valley, resulting from the striking proliferation of large warehouses. They too are struggling to find enough employees, and the pay rate reflects the shortage. Some openings advertise $20+ per hour along with signing bonuses and significant benefit packages. Healthcare service providers are now in a position where they have to finance a pay bump in order to compete to hire and retain workers, in spite of no increases in government support. This is not a sustainable solution, as community-based nonprofit organizations simply do not have the resources to cover these additional costs.

The American Jobs Plan announced by the Biden Administration includes $400 billion to expand access to and strengthen the direct care workforce for Medicaid Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) for seniors and people with disabilities. This plan is critical to funding the profession that thousands rely on for daily support.

Pennsylvania is among 45 states that receive federal assistance for Medicaid expenditures for home and community-based services.  On June 14, our state legislators submitted a spending plan to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services that addresses how Pennsylvania intends to expand access to HCBS and address provider issues, including increasing HCBS pay rates and benefits; protecting the health and well-being of direct support professionals by providing supplies and equipment; and recruitment and retention efforts to support the workforce. A complete list and details of the plan can be found here.

The week of September 12th is designated National Direct Support Professionals Recognition Week, an opportunity to call attention to direct support professionals for their dedication, innovation, and support for those in need. Every day they give of themselves to the service of another person. It takes a special kind of person willing to devote themselves to this kind of work. At Easterseals, we are very fortunate to work alongside such passionate people and we know the community is fortunate to have their dedication and service.

I urge you to take action on their behalf and on behalf of the individuals they serve by urging Congress to support the $400 billion included in the American Jobs Plan to expand access to and strengthen the direct care workforce Medicaid Home and Community-Based Services for seniors and people with disabilities.

Powered by Blackbaud
nonprofit software