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Arc goes to Albany to push for higher direct care wages

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 27 March 2019 at 9:18 am

Photos courtesy of Jarred Saj: Jarred Saj of Medina and Donna Saskowski, executive director of the Arc of Genesee Orleans, are pictured with State Assembly Michael Norris of Lockport in the rally for “BFair2DirectCare.”

ALBANY – The Arc of Genesee Orleans joined other Arc chapters in the state in Albany on Monday, to rally for higher wages for direct care workers.

Mark Van Voorst, executive director of the ARC New York, testified in Albany last month, urging the state to put more money in the budget for direct care workers. He said low pay is creating a staffing crisis for agencies.

Van Voorst highlighted the realities of agencies who are struggling to fill staffing positions as other businesses have raised wages. Non-profits like Arc chapters are heavily dependent on state funding, which has been slow to increase funding.

Van Voorst cited the following concerns:

• Providers are experiencing noticeable increases in medication errors.

• Medical appointments are being missed or rescheduled due to lack of staff on hand to transport individuals.

• Staff have fallen asleep on the job after a string of double shifts, or after coming to work ill because there was no one to cover their hours.

• Individuals are being moved from their normal residences and placed in alternate homes on weekends or holidays to consolidate staffing.

• Community outings and social opportunities are being canceled because of insufficient staff to support them.

• Providers across the state are unable to open new residential programs because they can’t staff their current homes.

• Aging parents fear they won’t find placements for their children as beds sit open in understaffed homes. In fact, many providers have closed homes altogether due to lack of available staff.

Jarred Saj, an Arc consumer, is pictured with Mark Van Voorst, executive director of the ARC New York during a rally on Monday in the state capital.

The direct care coalition is asking for the state to put an additional $18.25 million in the state budget for direct care workers.

The Arc New York has 49 chapters across the state, supporting more than 60,000 individuals and families and employing more than 30,000 people statewide. This year, the organization celebrates its 70th anniversary as an advocate and service provider.

“Direct Support Professionals are the backbone of our service system,” Van Voorst said during a hearing in Albany last month. “They are trained professionals whose responsibilities include medication administration, tube feeding, wound care, behavioral intervention, and supports for activities of daily living, including financial management, meal preparation, grooming and toileting.

“Lack of adequate state funding is quickly turning the complex and critical Direct Support Professionals role into a minimum wage job, and providers can no longer compete in the employment market,” he said. “We are losing skilled employees to fast food restaurants and retail stores, where workers can earn more and work less. As a result, our vacancy rates are increasing, while our employment standards are dropping.”

State-wide the Arc chapters have a job vacancy rate of 16.8 percent, Van Voorst said, with an average staff turnover rate of 26.7 percent annually.

“These vacant shifts can’t be left unfilled,” he said. “Care must still be provided, and in many cases, legally-defined staffing patterns dictate these requirements. So, DSPs and supervisory staff cover the shortfall with excessive overtime that leaves them overworked and exhausted. More than 12 million overtime hours were logged in 2018, as providers attempted to deliver needed services with minimal staff.”

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