A caregiver assists an autistic man. Survey data shows that disability service providers find it difficult to maintain their offerings as it becomes more difficult to attract and retain direct support professionals. (Charles Cherney / Chicago Tribune / TNS)
Disability service providers across the country are in crisis, with a majority reporting they are closing programs, turning down new referrals and struggling to maintain standards.
A survey this week of 449 organizations that provide services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities paints a grim picture of the current state of the industry a year and a half after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Of those surveyed, 58% of providers said they were interrupting programs or services, 77% refused new referrals, 84% delayed launching new offers, and 81% said they had difficulty meeting quality standards . Meanwhile, 40% of suppliers said they see a higher frequency of reportable incidents.
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“This is the first time since the deinstitutionalization movement that we have actually backed down,” said Barbara Merrill, CEO of the American Network of Community Options and Resources, or ANCOR. The organization, which represents disability service providers across the country, conducted the survey for a five-week period starting in August.
“The programs are closed, people are not taking new referrals. We are concerned that people will be moved to larger environments. We’ve never seen anything like it, ”Merrill said.
Lack of staff is at the root of most of the problems encountered by providers, according to the ANCOR report. The industry has long struggled to attract and retain direct support professionals, but the situation has only worsened. Almost 93% of providers surveyed said that “industries that previously paid comparable salaries are now paying employees more than my organization can afford to pay,” while 86.2% said professional salaries direct support is less than what people can receive from unemployment and other governments. safety net programs.
And there is little that providers can do about the situation since their rates of pay are largely determined by the reimbursement they receive from Medicaid.
As a result, the disability service provider industry is “extraordinarily fragile and starting to crumble,” Merrill said, which means families and people with disabilities are not getting what they need.
“Services are not provided with the levels they need to be safe and for people to experience community,” Merrill said. “We are concerned about basic human security here. This is why the suppliers are preparing to close and consolidate their programs. They are not going to run programs where people are not safe.
The survey is only the last ANCOR conducted among member organizations to assess their situation. Even before the pandemic, providers struggled to maintain or expand services and maintain standards, but since the emergence of COVID-19, circumstances have worsened in almost every way, ANCOR said.
The latest data comes as Congress continues to assess President Joe Biden’s plan to inject $ 400 billion into the nation’s home and community service system. More recently, lawmakers in the United States House of Representatives reduced the proposal to $ 190 billion, a figure that disability advocates say is insufficient to meet the massive waitlist for services and to the needs of the professional workforce for direct support.