The Struggle is Real
While missions may vary, all developmental disabilities service providers face the same challenges. Today, our field cannot hire enough staff to care for the individuals it serves. To say we have reached a staffing ‘crisis’ is a gross misrepresentation of the current situation.
Over thirty percent of our direct service workforce comprises employees with less than six months’ experience. These employees must learn the unique needs of those we serve through a consistent presence. As with any relationship, understanding the extraordinary qualities that make that person who they are takes time—special dietary needs, simple likes and dislikes of food and texture preferences, activities, and other daily experiences. When employees revolve in and out of their lives, it makes for a very unstable environment and a concern for quality care.
Even this limited amount of stability would not be possible without the recent investment made by Echoing Hills to increase direct support staff wages. In May of 2022, using savings and other one-time dollars, Echoing Hills increased wages by $2.50 per hour to reach an average starting wage of $16.50 per hour. But this decision, made out of absolute necessity, is only sustainable with a state budget increase. While the long-term viability of Developmental Disability Providers is troubling enough, it is compounded by the stories of unmet needs.
Echoing Hills is perhaps best known for its summer camp for individuals with developmental disabilities. Since 1967, our campers have come from every part of Ohio. While this week is fun for our campers, it also serves as a needed respite for parents – a time for them to take a mental health break, and recharge. In a typical summer, Camp Echoing Hills serves 350 campers. Unfortunately, this past summer, because we could not recruit enough staff and could not guarantee the health and safety of campers, we had over 100 campers on our waitlist for summer camp. In addition, we had to cancel around 60 reservations, which meant we had to tell campers and their families we had already said yes to that they could not come to camp.
Echoing Hills also provides residential services, a home for people with developmental disabilities. It is devastating that we have had to discharge individuals with complex needs and behaviors, as have other providers because we didn’t have the staff to care for them.
Echoing Hills is advocating to the Governor and his Administration to help solve this workforce crisis in the developmental disabilities field. While our field is not the only industry facing a staffing crisis, it is one place where the action of the Governor of Ohio can make a substantial difference. Medicaid almost exclusively supports those we serve with virtually no private pay or private commercial insurance to offset operating losses. This means the Administration’s decision to raise ICF and Waiver rates will allow providers to pay their direct support staff more and dramatically improve our ability to serve Ohioans with developmental disabilities.
Our goal is to educate and inform as many as possible as we work to solve this crisis and ensure that all Ohioans with developmental disabilities receive the care and support they need to live their best lives. Please reach out to your local and regional administration to advocate for these efforts!