Gov. Tom Wolf has failed to address the collapse of Pa.’s intellectual disability system

With billions of dollars in stimulus money at their disposal, Wolf, General Assembly must act now

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By Seventeen Disability Industry Leaders

At a time when Pennsylvania has billions of dollars in federal money plus state treasury receipts dramatically outperforming projections, the Wolf administration is failing to fully address the collapse of the community system that provides critical services for people with intellectual disability and autism.

The administration’s actions may have tragic consequences for people with disabilities.

Congress and  President Joe Biden have asked governors to rescue disability programs by increasing funding for the community system’s Direct Support Professionals.

Here’s how to solve Pa.’s intellectual disability funding crisis | Opinion

These DSPs provide lifesaving, caring supports for persons with disabilities, and this goal was a key element of the passage of the American Rescue Plan. It is also a vital provision of the pending Build Back Better legislation. Our commonwealth has received money to achieve this goal, but doing so requires leadership by our Governor to use both the federal dollars and Pennsylvania’s increasing revenues for this purpose.

Instead of responding to the crisis, the Wolf administration has presented a plan that fails on several fronts:

  • Fails to strengthen community services as required by federal law.
  • Fails to fund a wage that will hire enough skilled workers to operate community services.
  • Fails to offer a pathway to reduce an up to 60% turnover in community program staffing.
  • Fails to provide rates for sufficient staffing for programs serving people with medically and behaviorally complex issues.
  • Fails to restore service to 6,500 people who have lost supports in the last 18 months.
  • Fails to provide Equal Pay for Equal Work – 30% less than state workers.
  • Fails to support the 5,000 people in crisis at this moment.

Pennsylvania requires community programs to provide the gold standard of quality supports. Providers are expected to hire people who can deliver mental health support; teach people how to obtain and hold jobs; administer medication; support people with severe behavioral challenges and medical fragility; be trained in first aid, CPR, and other life-saving procedures; and work with a state bureaucracy that requires reams of documentation each day for every daily activity as well as all medical and behavioral events.

Underfunding has resulted in a daily struggle to find qualified workers with prior training or understanding of people with disabilities. This challenge has a direct impact on the quality of services, and has resulted in significant additional training and education expenses for providers.

In addition, more than 12,000 people are now on endless waiting lists. And more than 5,000 people are in emergency status. More than 6,500 people have lost services in the last 18 months.

More than 12,000 people are now on endless waiting lists. And more than 5,000 people are in emergency status. More than 6,500 people have lost services in the last 18 months.

Families of people with disabilities, service providers, and DSPs join in asking the Governor to fully fund the $541 million needed to begin salvaging this system.

This is not a difficult concept. It is within reach. But first Governor Wolf must lead by revising disability rates to stop the further collapse of this system.

The governor has repeatedly promised service providers that he would protect people with disabilities and their DSPs. We remain deeply disappointed in the actions to date.

Our Governor can either rescue people or leave them exposed to significant risk. We implore Governor Wolf to avoid the collapse of the intellectual disability system on his watch. Thousands of Pennsylvanians with disabilities depend on his leadership.

Those signing below are leaders of intellectual disability and autism service providers:

  • Tony Beltran, President/CEO, Pittsburgh Mercy Health System, Pittsburgh
  • Terence G. Blackwell, Jr, President/CEO, Chimes International Limited, Baltimore, MD
  • Diane Conway, CEO, MAX Association, Conshohocken
  • Rita Gardner, President/CEO of Melmark of Pennsylvania, New England, and Carolinas
  • Tine Hansen-Turton, President and CEO of Woods Services, Langhorne, PA
  • William Harriger, President/CEO of Verland Foundation, Sewickley
  • Karen D. Jacobsen, CEO of Emmaus Community of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County
  • Dr. Susan Latenbacher, President/CEO of Lark Enterprises Inc., New Castle
  • Susan Leyburn, CEO of LifePath Inc., Bethlehem
  • Lorraine Livosky, Executive Director of Diversified Family Services, Hermitage
  • Christopher Shay, President/CEO of McGuire Memorial, New Brighton
  • Ruth Siegfried, Founder and President/CEO of InVision Human Services, Wexford/Reading/Harrisburg
  • Kim Sonafelt, CEO of Mainstay Life Services, Pittsburgh
  • Will Stennett, Chief Officer of Developmental Disabilities & HSCBS Policy, Voices of Independence, Pittsburgh
  • Stephen H. Suroviec, President/CEO, Achieva, Pittsburgh
  • Marisol Valentin, Executive Director, McAuley Ministries, Pittsburgh
  • Charles Walczak, CEO of Erie Homes for Children and Adults, Inc. (EHCA), Erie

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Capital-Star Guest Contributor
Capital-Star Guest Contributor

The Pennsylvania Capital-Star welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation on how politics and public policy affects the day-to-day lives of people across the commonwealth.