The Center for Healthcare Solutions is proud to support The Provider Alliance, which counts among its members those from Pennsylvania’s intellectual disability and autism(ID/A) community. During Gov. Josh Shapiro’s recent budget address, he demonstrated both empathy and understanding of the plight facing our most vulnerable citizens and their families. He rightly discussed how many in the ID/A population have difficulty receiving needed services because of the significant workforce challenges compounding the ability to provide those services. 

The governor is offering his resounding support for the ID/A community as we enter anew state fiscal year. It is now up to the business community, and others, to ensure his proposed measures become a reality.

Every Pennsylvania legislator needs to hear this message and provide their support. Those connected to the ID/A community must contact their state senator and representative to demand their support.

Here’s why: The waiting list for services ballooned to 13,247 people in 2023, adding 847 new people during the year. Nearly half of these people have an emergency need, indicating they are in imminent danger. Yet, they remain at home with their families, receiving nothing. A growing number of family members are leaving the workforce to care for loved ones who cannot receive the care and services to which they are entitled. This is a direct impact on the Commonwealth’s economic strength. If people cannot work, we are all affected.

Moreover, of the people fortunate enough to have received authorization for services, there are not enough direct support professionals (DSPs) to care for them. A recent study of the Pennsylvania ID/A workforce by the Center for Healthcare Solutions found 23% of DSP positions were vacant, and the annual DSP turnover rate was 33%. DSPs provide essential care and supervision, but they also perform some of the same duties therapists and nurses provide. It is a very demanding job, which requires skills and competencies most of us do not possess. It’s also needed around the clock, seven days a week.

In today’s economy, DSPs can choose to work in less demanding industries. Fortunately, many DSPs don’t leave because they are committed to what they do. But the trends are clear. More people are leaving the field than are choosing to meet its challenges. As a result, there are fewer services available, particularly for the neediest people and their families. Inflation has increased by 20% since the data last used to develop ID/A services rates and by 10% alone since January 2022. Shapiro’s proposed investment is long over due, and for every day without it, conditions worsen for people in the ID/A community. And our state is poorer because of it.

The implications of the governor’s proposed budget allocation are profound. Not only will it increase the wages for DSPs, but it also will allow our service system to build capacity to serve thousands of our most vulnerable citizens. For families in need with no place to turn, the resulting peace of mind will be priceless.

In the previous two years, we have advocated for investment governors did not include in their budget proposals. This year is different. We have a proposed investment to rally around and support. There’s no better moment than now to act. People’s lives are on the line.

Nick Vizzoca is president of the Center for Healthcare Solutions.
Published Mar. 8, 2024 - Pittsburgh Business Times