NASP Testifies in Support of Rate Increase
Read the Omaha World Herald article HERE.
Labor Shortage Disrupts Developmental Disability Services;
2,866 Nebraskans on Waiting List
Martha Stoddard - Updated
LINCOLN — Nebraska’s workforce crunch has stymied efforts to shrink the list of people waiting for developmental disability services, a panel of state lawmakers was told Friday.
The state budget included enough money to add long-awaited services for 500 people this fiscal year. But five months into the year, none have been able to start services because providers don’t have enough staff, according to Alana Schriver, executive director of the Nebraska Association of Service Providers.
“In fact, many providers are being forced to send notices to people already in service that their needs can no longer be safely met, let alone serve new referrals,” she said. “We are in a worse position today than at this same time last year.”
To hang on and compete for workers, Schriver said providers need a 30% boost in payment rates from the state. The increase, which would cost an estimated $43 million, would be similar to the pay raises recently approved for front-line employees at the Beatrice State Developmental Center, a state-run institution for people with developmental disabilities.
Schriver spoke at a Health and Human Services Committee interim study hearing about the state’s developmental disability services waiting list.
Lawmakers also heard from Tony Green, director of the Developmental Disabilities Division of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.
He reported that there were 2,866 people on the waiting list as of Nov. 1. They are seeking a wide range of services, including job coaches, group homes, respite, transportation, independent living support and adult day care. Some people are receiving some services but are on the waiting list to get additional ones.
Many have spent years on the waiting list. Green said the current budget should allow the state to offer services to people who applied as of June 1, 2015.
But Schriver said a survey of providers showed that they are 30% short of the staff needed to provide essential services for current clients, forcing them to make heavy use of overtime and to operate with minimal staff. In at least one case, she said, the agency director has been covering overnight shifts at group homes.
While workforce problems are affecting a broad range of employers, most are able to adjust by shortening hours, reducing services or raising wages, she said.
Developmental disability service providers don’t have those options available because they cannot leave people without care and because wages depend on payment rates set by the state. As a result, staff are leaving for higher-paying jobs.
It is hard to keep people, she said, “when we pay people $11 an hour and they can make $17 an hour at Target and not have to work Christmas.”
Schriver said the provider group is asking for an emergency rate increase. She said they have presented their case to the Governor’s Office, HHS and the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee. Gov. Pete Ricketts will deliver his budget proposals to the Legislature in mid-January. HHS did not include an increase in its budget request to Ricketts.
Schriver said state payment rates have gone up in each of the last three years, with a 2% increase taking effect July 1.
But operating margins have been squeezed by inflation and pandemic-driven disruptions. Those disruptions include covering for employees who get COVID-19 or are exposed to someone with the disease. They also include situations in which staff have had to quarantine with residents at group homes after an exposure.
The state increased payment rates after the pandemic hit to help providers cope. But the increases were temporary. They started at 15%, then phased down to 5% through June and have now gone away.