Area disability service companies struggling to find workers

Group lobbying for increased funding

The disability services industry is in a bit of a hiring crisis.

According to industry professionals, the main issue is pay.

Providers such as Midwest Social Services, which has offices in Eagan, offer training and employment services for people with disabilities. They have found challenges in both attracting and keeping employees.

Midwest Social Services had the worst turnover in its history in 2016.

Almost 70 out of 160 employees left, according to Lyth Hartz, president of Midwest Social Services. Most of the turnover is at the entry level.

“We’re fully staffed now (in Eagan), but it’s very likely that will change soon,” Hartz said. “I would say our industry is in crisis. Our agency competes well, but our industry doesn’t compete well with other industries.”

When they have an opening, it takes a while to find a good candidate and “sometimes they leave in a few weeks,” Hartz said.

While it can be rewarding work, it’s also challenging.

“You have people’s lives in your hands,” Hartz said. “They’re vulnerable adults. If staff members are trying to raise a family, it can get hard. Many employees have other jobs.”

Midwest Social Services invests in their employees who then build relationships with their clients. Building a relationship takes time and when their employees leave, the process starts over.

“When it’s changing all the time, you can imagine how that feels on the people we’re helping,” Hartz said.

An increase in pay would help retain employees, so industry professionals are asking the Minnesota Legislature for help.

Their funding is regulated by the Minnesota Legislature and the Department of Human Services sets their rates. Pay is tied to state reimbursement rates set by lawmakers.

According to Mike Burke, the president of the Minnesota Organization for Habilitation and Rehabilitation, there are an estimated 8,700 unfilled direct support positions in Minnesota right now.

The number is growing as pay rates continue to lag behind other industries, Burke said.

The Best Life Alliance, a Minnesota coalition of more than 130 organizations, is asking state legislators to pass a 4 percent wage increase for direct support professionals in 2017 and again in 2018.

“Nothing is ever dead in the Minnesota Legislature, but right now it’s not alive,” Hartz said. “Who knows if it will be resurrected, but it looks like it’s not going to happen. Full disclosure here, we need a lot more than 4 percent. That would still leave us short for being competitive with other industries. It’s a statewide issue.”

According to the Best Life Alliance, waiver growth has increased about 10.3 percent from 2005 to 2015, compared to a 23.3 percent rate of inflation.

Support professionals provide skills training, employment services, community involvement, behavioral supports and life enrichment activities to more than 26,000 individuals with disabilities in Minnesota.

They help people with disabilities find jobs within the community and guide them into being more independent.

  • MK

    Its very important that our legislators take a serious look at providing an increase in funding for direct service professionals before this becomes a serious crisis where people with intellectual disabilities are harmed as a result of not receiving the supports they need to ensure their health and safety.