Pillen Pledges Funds to Support DD
NASP and The Arc Rally to Raise Awareness of Unspent Funding
Pillen pledges funds to boost staffing of developmental disability caregivers
- CHRIS DUNKER
Lincoln Journal Star
Advocates for individuals with developmental disabilities say languishing reimbursement rates for care providers who work in com-munity-based settings have created a “crisis of care” in Nebraska.
Staff shortages and high turnover rates among independent providers have resulted in more than 2,400 people in Nebraska who qualify for a developmental disability waiver un der Medicaid to be placed on a wait list, with those individuals waiting nine years on average to begin receiving adequate care.
Low provider rates caused $42.6 million appropriated to the Division of Developmental Disabilities to be left on the table last year, said Edison McDonald, executive director of the Arc of Nebraska, a statewide organization that advocates for individuals with developmental disabilities.
This year, the amount that could remain unspent by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services is on track to exceed $96 million, McDonald added.
“Across the nation and here in Nebraska, our system is struggling,” McDonald said at a press conference to highlight the issue Wednesday in the Rotunda at the Capitol. “We have seen families struggle to get access to care, not to mention a waiting list of thousands.
“There is a tremendous staffing shortage because we failed to provide quality provider rates to ensure staff can be paid adequately,” he added.
But, there was some good news to share as well.
On Tuesday, Gov. Jim Pillen agreed to make a one-time stabilization payment in June to cover a funding gap for service providers in order to allow them to raise pay and hire more staff this year.
The payment, which is tiered based upon the number of individuals a provider serves and comes with stipulations that the funds must be spent to hire frontline employees, will total between $23 million and $24 million, McDonald said.
Pillen, who said he recognizes the “critical need of agencies to attract and retain staff, also agreed to continue conversations about raising rates for community-based providers of developmental disability services in the future.
“We need to take care of our most vulnerable citizens and create pathways that allow them to have productive and meaningful lives,” Pillen said in a statement. “This funding will further that goal and will hold providers responsible for meeting benchmarks in hiring and retaining the staff they need.”
Providers, advocates, and the individuals at the center of the developmental disability community celebrated the news on Wednesday and pledged to continue pushing for better pay and outcomes.
Jennifer Meints of Lincoln, whose daughter Grace has a rare medical condition, said her family has experienced the impacts of staff shortages and limited resources over the last three years.
Adequate funding for service providers would help people like Grace live “a fully inclusive life and help them reach their full potential,” Meints said.
Sen. Ben Hansen of Blair, who chairs the Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee, called the one-time payment “a step in the right direction,” but said there was more work to be done.
“The ball needs to keep moving forward,” Hansen said, adding the Legislature should put caring for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities among its priorities like infrastructure and public safety.
He said the Legislature should also work to make provider rates more consistent and stable, so independent agencies can have confidence in offering top care.
Patrick Hayes, the chief financial officer of Elite Disability Services of Nebraska, which provides around- the-clock residential services, independent living, respite care and other programs, said the low reimbursement rates mean many of their caregivers have to rely on the state for assistance to meet their basic needs.
“These are people with the passion and desire to lift themselves up by the sweat of their brows,” Hayes said. “But it's hard to lift yourself up by your bootstraps when you can't afford the boots.”
Competitive provider rates would allow Elite Disability Services and others to recruit and retain employees who are looking for a career as caregivers, he added.
And Alana Schriver, executive director of the Nebraska Association of Service Providers, said staffing levels for developmental disability service providers have “gone over the cliff” and that it was time to take action.
“It's not just in Nebraska — this is a nationwide issue — but the difference is we have the ability and resources in Nebraska right now today to correct this problem,” Schriver said.
Schriver and McDonald credited Pillen for listening to parents, advocates and others in coming to the table and being willing to solve the problem.
“I think we've got a governor who really cares about people with disabilities,” McDonald said. “When advocates told him we need this action, he took action.”
But, they warned, the crisis is far from over.
Schriver, who pointed out state lawmakers had recently raised the pay of employees at Beatrice State Developmental Center, said more work needs to be done in order to pull Nebraska out of a “cycle of struggle.”
That will ensure that every family who needs services is able to access it and providers are paid properly to give adequate care, she said.
“The rewards people deserve for a job well done are a decent pay-check, work-life balance, and then ongoing training and developmental support.”