The Care Disaster: 1 in four direct help positions vacant in New York

In recent weeks, the disability community and its allies have expressed great concern about a huge gap in the workforce who support the daily lives of people with disabilities.

On Monday, May 24th, a large crowd of advocates gathered outside of Community Services for Every1 in downtown Buffalo. They sounded the alarm about a shortage of auxiliary workers. It started with a prayer and a call to action from Pastor Kinzer Pointer:

“It cannot go on like this, we not only have to make sure that every position is filled, but that we also pay living wages for these positions when applying and interviews. This is a social justice issue, “said Pointer.

For many people with disabilities, independent living often involves the assistance of a home health worker or, in the settings of a group home or other residential setting, helpers known as direct support professionals or DSPs. According to a recent survey by the New York Disability Advocates, one in four, or 24.75 percent, of the DSP positions in New York State is currently vacant. The survey comprised 118 provider agencies.

DSPs are the foundation of many agencies serving people with intellectual or developmental disabilities – they assist or assist people with a variety of everyday tasks, including learning to manage money, taking medication, or using the toilet.

And when these positions are vacant, many people lack the support they need to have a good quality of life and to live in the community.

“My story is not really easy, I rely on staff for almost all of my care, because I can’t get dressed, can’t get up, use a Hoyer lift and all that stuff. And without my DSPs, I wouldn’t be able to do the advocacy that I do for everyone, not just myself. I even have to plan my daily bathroom needs when staff is available, which of course doesn’t make my medics happy because it makes me sick and I can’t do what I need to do to help others, “said BJ Stasio.

BJ Stasio is President of the Self-Advocacy Association of New York State, an organization founded and led by people with developmental disabilities. The quote you just heard was from a week and a half after the Buffalo rally at a nationwide summit on the crisis. He spoke at both, and he spoke for most of the days in between at other events, from a candidates’ event for the Buffalo mayor’s race to a round table at Developmental Disability Day.

The personnel crisis worries Stasio every day, including in the supermarket.

“When I go shopping, I look at people and say, ‘Oh, maybe I could introduce myself to this person and say, maybe they want to work for me, maybe I should say, do you want to help others? Human because I’m not just a disabled person, I’m a human. I needed a hand and not a handout, ”said Stasio.

However, agencies say the challenge is getting and keeping DSPs based on wages. According to New York Disability Advocates, almost all of the money used to pay for DSPs comes from the government into the agency. According to NYDA, the average starting wage in many parts of the state is below $ 15 an hour, and only some are close to $ 20 an hour. According to MIT, the living wage for a one-parent-one-child household in Erie County is $ 29.89.

The Developmental Disability Alliance of Western New York, also known as DDAWNY, is an association of organizations that support people with disabilities. At the rally, they called on New York State to stop a proposed budget cut, increase DSP payments over the next three years, and add a two percent annual cost of living adjustment to DSP wages.

Mindy Cervoni is President and CEO of Community Services for Every1. Five years ago they would have had over 7,000 applicants for DSP positions; today there are fewer than 1,000. NYDA also reports that 93.16 percent of the 118 vendors it surveyed reported a drop in applicants.

“In the last few weeks we have spoken to DSPs who have left because we have more people who are leaving than coming. In order to pay the rent, they have to find another job. We found out that one of our direct caregivers lived in her car, she was homeless. She hopped from couch to couch because she couldn’t afford her rent. We need to help people change their minds about the priority of direct support experts, “said Cervoni.

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