A short-term fix to staff shortages among Minnesota group home providers and in-home services for people with disabilities will provide added funding for hiring bonuses and incentives for direct support professionals. That’s good news for some but not for others as day and employment services for people with disabilities were not included.
“While we fully support your recognition and emergency relief to these people, this is a delicately balanced system and we all work together,” said Julie Johnson, president of the Minnesota Organization for Habilitation and Rehabilitation (MOHR). Johnson on behalf of MOHR recently sent state officials a letter outlining her concerns.
MOHR is comprised of about 100 adult day, day training and habilitation, extended employment and supported employment. Service provider members serve more than 26,000 Minnesotans with disabilities. Members offer a broad array of quality options to realize the work and life enrichment goals of the people who have chosen these services.
The worker shortage among day service providers is extreme, she said, and negatively impacts the wellbeing and mental health of thousands with intellectual or developmental disabilities. She also said that individuals have basic rights to access employment and other supports and daytime activities that are essential for their quality of life.
“The system of supports for Minnesotans with disabilities is highly interdependent, and we are seeing on a daily basis right now how lack of access to employment and day supports is contributing greatly to the unsustainable pressure being placed on residential service staff, and we fear this will lead to a system collapse,” Johnson said in her letter. It was sent to Gov. Tim Walz and Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) Commissioner Jodi Harpstead.
The issue MOHR raises is a familiar one to sectors of disability services. During recent legislative hearings, it has been pointed out that group home staff also have missed out on some programs.
Walz in mid-January announced an $83 million allocation to go to nursing homes and services for people with disabilities statewide. Of that amount, about $52 million would be distributed right away. The funding is coupled with a longer-term effort to work on increases to the state’s Medicaid rates.
The funding is in response to the omicron variant of COVID-19, to deal with severe workforce emergencies amid rapidly rising caseloads.
DHS will exercise emergency authority under state law to expedite Medicaid funding to nursing homes and direct support services for people with disabilities facing significant staffing crises in the pandemic. This step, which requires federal approval, will make up to $83 million in state and federal funds available to cover emergency costs that will help providers maintain their workforce.
Nursing homes will also receive a temporary 5 percent increase on average in-state payment rates. This increase gives nursing facilities access to about $52 million in immediate funding while DHS works to set permanent Medicaid rates for 2022 that reflect the costs of the pandemic.
Impacted direct support services for people with disabilities will receive a 5 percent rate increase from March through May, if Minnesota’s action receives federal approval, and is intended for staff hiring and retention incentives.
“Our long-term care providers and disability service providers continue to fight on the frontlines of the pandemic and take care of Minnesotans in need,” said Walz. “Our actions today will provide urgent resources to critically understaffed nursing facilities and services for people with disabilities across the state.”
“We are doing our utmost to make these additional resources available as soon as possible to providers,” said Harpstead. “We are also looking at additional ways that we may enhance our support to other sectors through the pandemic and beyond because we know that these investments will not ensure the long-term health of these caring professions sectors. These two sectors will play the most direct role in hospital decompression through the Omicron surge..”
Another part of the state’s plan for long-term care includes training and deploying 1,000 new certified nursing assistants to long-term care facilities; distributing $50 million in federal American Rescue Plan funding to long-term care facilities to hire and retain employees; and deploying more than 350 National Guard members to provide staffing support at long-term care facilities. A state emergency staffing pool for residential service providers experiencing staffing shortages due to COVID-19 was finished at the end of December.