Staffing challenges was a common frustration expressed by group home leaders during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee meeting this past week.
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Staff pay ended up being the driving force behind a lot of these struggles raised by the officials, and it went hand in hand with both staff and bed availability.
Lynne Daw, the bureau chief of provider support at the Florida Agency for Persons with Disabilities, presented a few charts for the committee explaining the disparities in group home availability.
According to her data, the number of group homes in Florida from March 2021 to October 2021 saw an overall increase of 0.05%. She pointed out, however, that the number of homes classified as “standard” homes, places that treat people with the least severe mental conditions, saw the greatest percentage change with 0.68%. Group homes classified as “intensive behavior,” homes that treat those with the most significant mental challenges, saw the greatest drop in availability for the same 7-month period at -2.44%.
Daw attributed these changes to staff availability, and to pay as well.
“Some of those financial reasons, from talking to providers, is because they’re having to pay an inordinate amount of overtime to their existing staff to be able to staff those homes sufficiently.”
Inadequate pay doesn’t just impact group home closures. It impacts bed availability too. Daw mentioned to the committee that some homes in Florida might have 19 beds that they can accommodate, but are not able to meet the quota because of a lack of staff.
During the meeting, Sen. Ray Rodrigues (R – Fort Myers) asked Daw if simply charging more for services in a group home would fix the staffing issue. She explained that it’s not a simple answer because everything’s subjective. It’s ultimately up to the customer as to which group home he or she wants to live in.
Other officials are dealing with similar issues.
Tyler Sununu, president and CEO of the Florida Association of Rehabilitation Facilities, pointed to the pandemic as the reason why he’s facing so many challenges.
According to him, COVID-19 took a toll financially for both group homes and their staff.
“Throughout the past year with the COVID-19 pandemic, providers are not able to pay competitive wages which has resulted in 23% of our member agencies’ positions being vacant.”
Lower staff salaries has also made it a struggle to keep group homes open.
“Over 75% of our members have said that they have had to reduce or discontinue services that they are able to provide because of this.” “Same with the adult day training centers — they’ve had an incredibly hard time trying to find staff and stay open.”
One official had to close down a couple programs geared towards helping disabled people just because of staffing.
Violet Gonzalez, director of community relations and corporate advancement at the Miami Achievement Center for the Developmentally Disabled (MAC Town), has helped open ten group homes in the Florida area since 1999.
This changed, however, as a result of the pandemic.
“We opened a day program in Palm Beach to serve the [individuals with significant issues] who lived in group homes since the existing group homes didn’t serve those with significant behavioral challenges.”
This program had to be terminated back in June 2021 since staffing and costs began to arise.
“These closures were due to a variety of reasons, but the inability to hire and retain quality staff has contributed to this significantly.”
According to Gonzalez, MAC Town had 14 group homes prior to the pandemic. They had to close two in 2019 and have had to close another two this past year.