Opinion

IDD crisis requires passage of emergency legislation

Maine has been at the vanguard of intellectual disability (ID) services reform over the last 30 years, most notably evidenced by the closure of Pineland Hospital and the establishment of the person-centered planning and community inclusion model. However, for the last decade the sector has been facing a worsening workforce crisis.

Since 2007, Maine has cut the hourly reimbursement rate for ID services by almost 30 percent in real dollars, depleting the system of its most necessary resource — its workforce. Over the last decade, the rates have been cut so significantly that wages are barely above minimum wage, causing an exodus of direct care workers from the system.  

People with ID rely on direct support professionals (DSPs) to provide the services they need every day to live safely in their community. This includes helping people in a group home shop and cook a meal, travel to work, or handle their finances. For many people with more severe disabilities, it may also include help using the bathroom, preventing them from hurting themselves or others when they’re angry or frustrated, and assisting people with medical conditions, such as feeding tubes and colostomies. On top of all this, the work must be done with compassion, kindness, and good humor.

This is simply unsustainable and a growing crisis is already occurring throughout the system.  Families with a loved one currently receiving services see a revolving door of DSPs or overworked support staff struggling to fill shifts, while those coming off the waitlist are denied placement.

Fortunately, it is a problem that we have an opportunity to correct.

House Majority Leader Erin Herbig, D-Belfast, has submitted emergency, bipartisan legislation to fix this crisis. LD 967, An Act to Ensure Access to Community Services for Persons with Intellectual Disabilities or Autism, empowers providers to offer a wage that allows them to compete for and retain the professionals the system depends on. Specifically, it instructs the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to restore funding rates to 2007 levels plus an additional 10 percent.  

The state has a moral and legal obligation to care for our most vulnerable citizens. DSPs and the service providers they work for meet that obligation on the state’s behalf. However, should LD 967 not pass, the crisis will remain unaddressed and the delivery of services to Mainers with intellectual disabilities or autism will collapse, putting the safety of our most vulnerable citizens at risk and jeopardizing the 12,000 jobs and $400 million in economic activity the sector produces. Locally from Danforth to Fort Kent, agencies that provide services to people with ID employ over 1,000 people and bring in tens of millions of dollars to local economies.

Maine’s integrity and economy demand support of LD 967. We ask our state legislators to provide it.

Central Aroostook Association
Community Living Association
Danforth Habilitation Association
Green Valley Association
Northern Aroostook Alternatives
Northern Maine General

 

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