Ohio faces a “chronic challenge” finding and keeping personnel to help residents with disabilities, but state lawmakers seem poised to increase compensation for such professionals.
Increasing compensation is a good first step toward alleviating the shortage and stemming turnover, Than Johnson, CEO of CRSI and a representative of the Ohio Provider Resource Association (OPRA), told members of the House Finance Subcommittee on Health and Human Services this week.
The shortage is making it difficult for nonprofit organizations to compete with for-profit companies. The association recommends removing the requirement that direct support professionals (DSPs) have a GED until the crisis ends and using the workforce shortage as an opportunity to hire more individuals with disabilities.
“The solutions are varied, but much depends on the ability to attract a workforce that is provided an appropriate wage and benefit and that allows us to compete with other healthcare entities,” Johnson said this week.
Several state agencies that help Ohioans with developmental disabilities are seeking double-digit budget increases. One component of those increases is an increased reimbursement for DSPs, including overnight support professionals, a push that seems to have bipartisan support, at least at the committee level.
“All of this talk about raising people’s wages and getting highly trained, highly qualified people to stay in these important jobs is refreshing to me,” Rep. Brigid Kelly, D-Cincinnati, said during a hearing this week.
Rep. Scott Lipps, R-Franklin, said lawmakers were “embarrassed that the state of Ohio would ask you as private providers to pay your staff $8.55 per hour, and then have the audacity to” reimburse providers at a lower rate.
“I, first of all, want to apologize for how that’s been handled,” he said before asking about whether a vehicle was in place to account for future minimum wage increases. Up to now, no such arrangement was in place.
The turnover affects residents such as Ben Young, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair.
“Imagine what it is like to have a stranger come into your home. That stranger will have to help feed you, clothe you, and clean you,” Young told committee members. “You don’t know if that same person is going to be there the next day. Or the next. Or if they will be gone and a new stranger will be coming.
“This has been my life as an adult,” Young added. “It has happened so many times that I don’t even think about it anymore. I have had to just get used to these facts of my life now. When I was asked what it is like to live like that, my honest answer was that I really don’t know any other way.”
Stephanie Barber Maynard, who has cerebral palsy, urged lawmakers to focus on the quality of service.
“What our system does is we worry about the certification, and we worry about the liability, which we have to ... but we forget to have the conversations with the individuals and the families about what their services need to look like,” she told lawmakers. “That’s where the training needs to come in.”