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A Cause for Applause - Bipartisan Support for Increasing Reimbursement Rates

by Jennifer Gray

The House and Senate have taken multiple votes to approve a bipartisan agreement to increase the reimbursement rates for services provided to certain MaineCare member adults with intellectual disabilities or autistic disorder, as proposed by LD 967, An Act to Ensure Access to Community Services for Persons with Intellectual Disabilities or Autism, as amended.

CCO Public Domain

This is good news. While the ultimate fate of the bill is uncertain, as it will land on the Legislature’s Appropriations Table where it will need to be funded (and then the Governor will need to take action), the unanimous Health and Human Services Committee vote in support is cause for applause. At a time when bipartisanship seems rare, this gives us a reason to hope that the bill will be funded.

Why This Issue Matters to Us All

Testimony in support of increasing the rates tells a compelling tale of important human needs, caring people working for noncompetitive wages for very long hours, and a nonprofit sector that is an important economic driver and critical partner in ensuring prosperity and vitality of our state. The nonprofit sector is also a valuable partner in attracting and retaining younger workers, who are drawn to work with a social mission, such as supporting adults with intellectual disabilities or autistic disorder.

  • “LEAP, and other providers like us across the state, have an extraordinarily important charge- we are asked to take care of people’s sons and daughters, many of whom have complex care plans. Quality of life, indeed life itself, is in the hands of Direct Care Professionals (DPS) day and night in every corner of our great state. LD 967 will allow us to invest in the quality of services to supported individuals and help us to attract and retain the level of staff required to do this challenging and rewarding work. It should not be a crisis for a hard-working Mainer to need snow tires or meet basic housing and food requirements. Your support for this bill can help rectify that situation.” ~Darryl Wood, RN, ED., LEAP, Inc.
  • “With low wages, it is hard to keep the best caring, responsible, and dependable DSP.” ~Lisa Whitcomb, DSP, OHI
  • “I have an extremely important job. I am responsible for the health and safety of individuals who have intellectual disabilities. Some of the people I work with cannot speak, many have physical handicaps and or behavioral challenges that complicate their intellectual disability. Some require 1:1 staffing in the home 24 hours per day while others require 2:1 staffing in the community. Most of the people I support have some ability to help themselves as it relates to activities of daily living, but many have little to no ability to take care of themselves at all. I am responsible for all activities of daily living for the people I serve…. Money is not the reason I work in the field, but money may be a reason I have to move on to another job. You see, the average hourly wage for a DSP at Independence Association is approximately $11.53 per hour. Other agencies pay about the same rate. When the local Cumberland Farms are advertising jobs beginning at $13.50 per hour you begin the rethink the level of importance the State of Maine has towards its most vulnerable population.” ~John Lacharite, DSP, Independence Association
  • “The numbers below tell the story about the workforce crisis at OHI:
    • 322 – The number of people OHI employs in the Bangor region.
    • 60 – OHI currently has 60 full and part time Direct Support Professional (DSP) positions vacant as of March 29, 2017.
    • 968 – The number of job applications OHI received in 2016.
    • 136 – The number of Direct Support Professionals hired in 2016.
    • 132 – The number of Direct Support Professionals who left OHI in 2016.
    • 41% – 2016 Turnover Rate of Direct Support Professionals at OHI.
    • Pay/Benefits – Primary reason for leaving employment with OHl.
    • Entry Wage – $9.50/hour plus $0.25 upon receiving the CRMA certification and $.025 upon receiving the College of Direct Support certification or $10.00/hour.” ~Melinda Ward, SPHR Director of Support Services, OHI

Nonprofits are important economic contributors. Inadequate reimbursement puts their impact at risk.

  • Just look at the numbers: According to MANP’s Adding Up Impact Report, 1 in 6 (over 95,000) Maine workers is employed by a Maine nonprofit.
  • Like many other nonprofits, the organizations providing the care impacted by LD 967 play a critical role in their community.  They provide these essential services but they also provide jobs and their employees spend money.  These jobs are a significant contributor to the local economy – many of these communities are rural with limited economic opportunities.
  • The Charlotte White Center, for example, is operating in Piscataquis County, one of Maine’s poorest counties.  The Center has a $10 million annual payroll and employees 350 people, many of whom are between 18 and 35 years old.
  • The current reimbursement rate is insufficient to allow these organizations to offer adequate wages to keep the positions filled.  Turnover can be as high as 44% per year.  This turnover impacts care and increases costs as temporary workers, hired to fill the vacant positions, cost more.  Many of these organizations are operating on the margins, particularly the smaller organizations and those located in the rural parts of the state.
  • Nonprofits face a variety of pressures.  Should they not survive, the impact on the community could be devastating, causing a cascading impact to those directly benefiting from the services and the local economy that depends on these jobs.

Reminder: Keep the Johnson Amendment Debate on Your Radar

There is important conversation in Washington D.C. that impacts the entire nonprofit sector.

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