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NY: Group homes for disabled people are closing as staffing crisis persists

Residential facilities operated by the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities are closing fast.

The current crisis in care has hit rural areas the hardest, particularly the Finger Lakes region.

Rural areas hardest hit by lack of staff and facility closures

The suspension of residential services in some rural areas has resulted in many people with developmental disabilities having to relocate to new group homes further away from their families, according to the Albany Times-Union.

The state agency is conducting forums across New York to gain public input on its new five-year plan.

Wayne Spence, president of the Public Employees Federation, doesn’t think the OPWDD is doing enough to address the crisis in direct care.

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130 group homes “temporarily suspended” in past three years

At the forum in Rochester, Spence delivered a statement condemning the state for excluding the PEF from the process of creating this strategic draft plan.

The OPWDD later stated it needed to take “emergency measures to ensure the safety of people living in a small number of group homes that are unable to retain or recruit sufficient staffing levels.”

In total, 130 group homes were “temporarily suspended” over the past three years, said the agency. OPWDD currently has almost 3,000 full-time staff vacancies.

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Thousands New Yorkers with disabilities need residential placement

By March 2022, the agency needed emergency residential placement for 1,059 people who were “homeless or in imminent danger of being homeless.” Another 2,270 people were in the “substantial need” category.

Additionally, 2,159 people were looking for residential placement but were not in the above groups with the highest need.

Labor advocates worry state isn’t doing enough to address crisis

PEF officials say the state doesn’t seem to have a plan in motion to quickly address the staffing issues and closures.

The pandemic worsened staffing issues, said PEF’s Vice President Randi DiAntonio to a state Senate panel last year, but so did the state’s practice of relying on private care providers in an attempt to cut costs.

According to the OPWDD website, 80% of services are provided by private nonprofits, while 20% of services are run by the state.

The agency cut its own staff by 16% between 2011 and 2020, continued the Times-Union article.

OPWDD phasing in salary increases for direct care and clinical staff

UPDATE: 08/03/22 | 12 p.m.

Beginning in March of this year, the OPWDD began phasing in salary increases for state-operated direct care and clinical staff.

Phase 1 increased the starting salary of eight direct care titles, bringing the Direct Support Assistant starting salary to over $20 per hour.

This resulted in more than 4,000 existing direct care staff receiving an automatic pay increase, according to the state office.

Phase 2 saw increased salaries for higher-level clinicians, while Phase 3 ushered in salary increases for Registered Nurse and Licensed Practical Nurse titles.

Additionally, under the NYS Budget 2022-23, OPWDD is able to provide overtime rates at 2.5 times the base rate of pay for primarily direct care staff employed by the state.

Interested in applying to become a Direct Support Professional? Click here.

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