In Annual Events, Legislative Breakfast, Testimony


Susan Constantino speech FINAL

Before I start I would like to read to you from a job description.

  • Assists individuals with activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, and eating
  • Participates in recreational activities, both in-house and in the community
  • Participates as a member of the interdisciplinary team and assists in evaluating and implementing goals/outcomes
  • Communicates and relays participation information to clinicians, supervisors, and co-workers
  • Maintains records, charts, and logs
  • Maintains records including cash journal, ledgers, and medication counts
  • Administers medication
  • Prepares and serves meals
  • Performs general housekeeping tasks
  • Does all of the above with a positive attitude, remembering that their main duty is to ensure the health and safety of the individuals whom they support every day.
  • And they must be ready to work double shifts, in all weather and at a wage hardly higher than the minimum wage.

That is the career of the Direct Support Professional (DSP).

I have not mentioned all the job duties because the list is too long and I know you all know the value of DSPs and others who work in our agencies. The real question is how do we get the Governor to recognize the amazing value of these dedicated individuals. At least 90% or greater of most provider dollars come from Medicaid. And if the State does not increase the dollars to the providers, there is no money for raises.

OPWDD assembled a Transformation Panel in 2015 with the charge to develop a plan which would guide OWPDD’s system transition to a sustainable future with a more flexible and person centered system of supports. The Transformation Panel issued several recommendations about ways to better support staff to do their jobs with enhanced training, better tools, and greater opportunities for advancement. All of these recommendations are great. But without dollars to increase salaries, these are just empty words.

Direct Support Professionals do not do minimum wage work. You heard the list of responsibilities. Those are not minimum wage responsibilities. Before the increase in the minimum wage (which we support), we were able to pay our valued workers above the minimum wage. While we have not surveyed all providers on the exact number, we do know that in 2006, there were many agencies that were paying 20%-40% above the minimum wage that was in effect in 2006. DSPs knew that they were valued for their skills in supporting people with developmental disabilities. Today most DSP wages are only slightly above the minimum wage, if at all, and are likely to be as much as 9% below the fast food minimum wage.

The providers and the families know that the supports and services depend on the DSP workforce. All areas of the state are experiencing shortages in staff and this will be exacerbated in the coming years. There is currently, based on many surveys put out by the Provider Associations, an 11% vacancy rate and a 24% one year turnover rate. Some parts of the State are experiencing a much greater vacancy and turnover rate. We know of an agency that has approval to develop a home for 6 adults but can’t because they cannot get the staff for the home.

We must do something now to guarantee that our programs have the trained and competent staff necessary to support our folks whether they live at home or in residences.

The #bFair2DirectCare Coalition is asking the Legislature to support a living wage for our direct support staff. This would mean an investment of $45 million in additional State funding every year for 6 years. This would mean a 2.3% increase each year for the DSPs and other support staff. That doesn’t seem like a huge ask when you consider the work of DSPs.

Someone asks what value would there be for the State by funding this ask. Trained DSPs are an incredible value in themselves. But there is also the fact that there would be less overtime, so perhaps fewer incidents and accidents, fewer vacancies, to more time for community inclusion, and more time for training.

The Transformation Panel recommended that OPWDD look for ways to achieve the goal of creating career ladders for direct support professionals and to provide the training to support those individuals with behavioral challenges.

All of this starts with a living wage. We are asking the Legislature to not forget this very important issue and to put the $45 million in their one-House budgets. This would be the start of their commitment and would show that they realize we must bFair2DirectCare

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