Prop. 206 has unintended consequences for East Valley care providers

December 1, 2016
East Valley Tribune
Shana Ellis

Caring for individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities requires education, ongoing training and passion—like any skilled profession, it’s not for everyone. As a result, service providers, like The Centers for Habilitation (TCH), and our families value the care provided by direct-care professionals entrusted to work with our members on a daily basis.

Since 2009, my organization, as part of our statewide association, has been advocating for the restoration of state funding that was previously cut. These cuts have made it next to impossible for TCH, along with other care providers across the East Valley and state, to pay our direct-care employees more for the essential care they provide.

As a result, service providers are experiencing staff turnover rates as high as 80 percent and direct-care workers’ pay is often below what big-box stores or fast-food chains can offer their employees. Prop. 206 will make it even more difficult for us and the entire provider network to retain existing staff and recruit replacements as staff can still choose to work at big-box stores or fast-food chains and make the same amount of money for arguably less stressful work.

Continuity of care for individuals with disabilities creates trust for the individual receiving care and peace of mind for the family. While increasing the minimum wage may have sounded like a simple solution to this problem, it will actually make the current state of affairs for this community worse.

The cost and reimbursement of our services is determined by the state of Arizona. This means that care providers cannot increase the cost of our services to cover the increase to wages.

Absent appropriate increases in state funding to cover the higher employment costs of Prop. 206, care providers will be unable to absorb the cost of increased wages. Many service providers are planning to reduce services and some will be forced to close their doors as early as Jan. 1, leaving staff out of a job and many of the 30,000 individuals with disabilities having lost their caretaker.

TCH and other service providers want and need to increase the wages of our direct-care workers—not only are they worth it, but the ability to recruit and retain more professionals to provide quality and consistent care to individuals with disabilities is critical at this juncture.

We want to continue to serve this vulnerable population, but need the Legislature and the governor to increase funding for the care of those with disabilities as soon as possible during the 2017 Legislative session, otherwise the passage of Prop. 206, coupled with the funding cuts of the past, will jeopardize the health and safety of Arizona’s most vulnerable residents.

– Shana Ellis is president and CEO of The Centers for Habilitation and executive committee member of the Arizona Association of Providers for People with Disabilities.

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