January 4, 2016
By: Riah Roe, ILS Manager
My day to day job working as a manager of Opportunity Partners’ Independent Living Skills training program might not strike people as particularly impactful. With a razor thin budget, I manage a small staff that goes into the community and supports individuals who have sustained a brain injury. For the people we support, small things like making a phone call or accessing food can seem like insurmountable challenges. They often have few natural support systems and find themselves being confronted with unemployment, homelessness, food insecurity, and legal problems.
This is where my dedicated staff come in. Throughout their careers these Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) develop long-term, meaningful relationships with the people we serve; sharing with them their knowledge, talents, and skills. These relationships are critical to the development of people’s independent living skills, and ultimately saves Minnesota money and resources. My staff single-handedly support people with disabilities from being unnecessarily institutionalized in hospitals, nursing homes, or prisons – often going above and beyond what is asked of them in their job description.
The act of supporting another person’s independence is a beautiful thing. However, the realities of our service sector can harm those relationships. What I as a manager can compensate my staff with is limited by the historical lack of investment by the Minnesota legislature. This results in extremely high staff turnover in our field. To be able to support others, my staff need to be well supported. Our services are a smart investment. They save us money in the long run, while simultaneously providing dignity, freedom, choice, and independence for those with disabilities.
This is why Opportunity Partners is part of a nonpartisan group called the Best Life Alliance, a statewide coalition of more than 130 organizations, people with disabilities, older adults, families, and community supporters advocating for Home and Community Based Services. We’ll be asking lawmakers to support a 5 percent rate increase to support people with disabilities, older adults and DSPs. The rate increase will include three components in the bill:
• Workforce compensation to address the current workforce crisis.
• Projects that will increase the quality of services provided.
• Person-centered focus to advance Minnesota’s commitment to services that address individual needs and choices.
As the baby boomers age, more and more people will be accessing Home and Community Based Services like ours. If the current workforce shortage is indicative of anything it is that the demand will soon outgrow our ability to provide for them. The time to invest in our communities is now. Together, we can ensure that people with disabilities, as well as those who support them, can all have the best life possible.