Stimulus funding requests highlight staffing ‘crisis’ for disability service providers
AA trio of West Michigan nonprofits are asking for millions of dollars in federal stimulus funding to help address a longstanding and worsening labor shortage among labor providers. services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Based in Grand Rapids Thresholds Inc., based on Muskegon MOKA Corp. and Spectrum Community Services — three of the four largest Medicaid service providers for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) in Kent County — have requested up to $14 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding from the county of Kent.
County officials are currently reviewing the three separate funding proposals. If approved, the organizations would use the funds to provide their employees with premium pay and overtime, as well as offset the costs of technology upgrades that would help reduce the workload of existing employees.
Nonprofit leaders say the funding requests are aimed at stemming worsening rates of worker burnout and job vacancies and building capacity at their residential facilities that are currently at full capacity or under capacity. understaffed. Low Medicaid reimbursement rates that fail to provide a competitive work environment to attract talent are at the heart of the problem.
“It’s a long-standing problem in our field. It’s just really hard to find good staff,” Thresholds President and CEO Jacquelyn Johnson said. “We are unable to pay a very competitive salary because the people we serve have Medicaid.”
The primary funder of community health organizations, Network180 LLCis also limited in increasing group funding, Johnson added.
COVID-19 “brought it all to a crisis” with the “great resignation” and physical risk factors that emerged early in the pandemic, Johnson said.
“It really hit us in terms of staffing shortages and then it only got worse,” she said. “We are struggling to find staff, but other for-profit companies are also able to do things like limit their hours. We can’t — we provide 24-hour care. We can’t close early. It really became a crisis.
The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) offers some hope to nonprofit leaders, who are fishing among hundreds of other proposals for a share of the $127 million allocation of Kent County. After issuing a public call for funding proposals, county officials last month began sifting through more than 300 applications, including three from nonprofits.
Thresholds, with 15 residences, has approximately 200 full-time and part-time employees and serves approximately 175 people annually. MOKA, which has been serving people with developmental disabilities for over 40 years, employs approximately 360 people and serves approximately 800 people annually in Muskegon, Ottawa, Kent and Allegan counties.
Johnson said applying to Kent County was a creative solution since the three organizations are, in effect, competitors.
“The idea we talked about is this: we may not be able to expand our employee base significantly, but how about strengthening those we have and supporting the staff we have so that they can really focus on the work that we are paying them to do?” says Johnson.
Technology and equipment upgrades could help “minimize the unnecessary physical burdens they have” by making residential facilities more accessible.
Increasing overtime pay remains another growing challenge for organizations. Johnson said overtime pay, historically, has accounted for an additional 4-5% of the payroll for disability service providers. Today, it is between 20 and 25%.
“And it’s not reimbursed,” Johnson noted, adding that a reduced staff leads to more overtime. “It’s a real need in our field. I have employees who work 100 hours a week, not because they want to, but no one else will.
MOKA executive director Tracey Hamlet said the convening of the three organizations was largely driven by the need for the community to recognize the problem, which involves staff vacancy rates of 20-30% among the three organizations. non-profit.
“It’s been a huge problem for decades, COVID has made it worse,” Hamlet said. “We came together thinking: maybe this will be a more powerful proposition if we do it together.”
The proposals have so far met with a lukewarm response from the Kent County Board of Commissioners. In late October, commissioners voted to rank the more than 300 proposals based on their priority, and the three proposals from nonprofits as a whole generated low priority.
Hamlet said she was “disheartened” by the filing results and hopes to receive more clarity on how the county will ultimately approve funding applications.
However, the search for funding continues elsewhere, including for a share of Ottawa County ARPA funding that MOKA has applied for through a partnership with Grand Rapids Community College, Hamlet said.
MOKA is also taking steps and “testing different things” to reduce staff loads by investing in technology, such as smart home technology that allows staff to leave at night. Improved elevators used to move people also require fewer staff to operate.
“Sometimes if you only implement one device, it can reduce the impact on staff,” Hamlet said. “Anything useful.”