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'We're beginning to see the collapse of the system'



Agencies that serve people with disabilities call for more funds to pay staff

90.5 WESA | By Kate Giammarise | Interview with Nancy Murray, Senior Vice President of Achieva and President, The Arc of Greater Pittsburgh

As the economy continues to reemerge from the pandemic, many employers say they are having a hard time hiring enough workers for all their open positions. But one sector was already facing major staffing shortages prior to the coronavirus – providers for home and community-based services for people with disabilities.

The inability to hire and retain workers – in part driven by low wages due to low government reimbursement rates – was already a crisis, but now threatens to collapse the system, advocates say.

Direct support professionals, or DSPs, do everything from aiding people with medical appointments, helping with housework and cooking, assisting with complex medical care, and helping people with activities of daily life like brushing their teeth, bathing, and getting dressed.

“The inability of organizations to recruit and retain staff has been with us for quite a few years now. And then the pandemic hit. And we lost many DSPs, many DSPs found that they had to stay home with their family members. Others decided maybe it was time to find another profession. The work is hard. And for what we're able to pay DSPs, they could go to other employers in all different sectors in the economy and receive a higher wage,” said Nancy Murray, president of the Arc of Greater Pittsburgh and senior vice president at Achieva.

“Now that now that we're seeing a recovery, we don't we don't have the staff available to us any longer at the rate of the salaries that we're able to pay them with the rates that we receive to keep pace with, other sectors of the economy, whether it's Wal-Mart or Sheetz or, you know, some restaurants, we just can't, we just can't pay our staff what they can earn in in other places,” Murray said.

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Lawmakers must increase funding to support those who care for people with disabilities
A guest editorial on PennLife.com by Gary Blumenthal

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