On June 4, 2022 the Star Tribune published the story “‘The system is in ruins’: Minnesotans with disabilities feel left behind amid workforce shortage.” It highlights a critical problem impacting our community. Direct Support Professionals (DSPs)—including Personal Care Assistants (PCAs), homecare nurses, and professionals who work in licensed settings—are a very important part of Minnesota’s workforce and network of support for people with disabilities. It is vital that we find ways to ensure their jobs are sustainable, and that DSPs earn a livable wage.
The current crisis is the old crisis
This is not a new problem. The system is in ruins because its structure has long been unsustainable. For many years, state demographers have been telling us the impending workforce shortage will not be a problem of pay, job satisfaction, or other “typical” recruitment and retention issues alone. Rather, the dilemma is that we do not have enough working age adults in the workforce to fill all of the existing jobs in Minnesota. That includes the direct care positions our state relies so heavily on.
Minnesota has one of the highest rates of group homes per capita in the country (see In-Home and Residential Long-Term Supports and Services for Persons with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities: Status and Trends 2018 (umn.edu) at page 50). Unfortunately, we are seeing the consequences of an overreliance on limited staff in these settings. Overreliance is contributing to burnout and lower quality care for the people who live there. According to Minnesota’s Olmstead Subcabinet report, quality of life is lower for people who live in provider-controlled residential settings than for others (see Olmstead Quality of Life Preliminary Report (mn.gov) at 14).
Many people with disabilities and their families are unaware of the opportunities and options available for them to live in their own homes and communities. Many do not need the level of care a group home provides, but due to the lack of awareness, as well as the lack of affordable, accessible and available housing and more flexible support options, group homes become their only choice.
Unfortunately, the legislature’s approach of expanding the capacity of group homes and intermediate care facilities (ICFs) will not alleviate the workforce shortage. Instead, it will take us in the wrong direction towards disabled people living in larger and more segregated settings. Advocates in Minnesota have spent decades working to ensure that people who have disabilities are not segregated from the rest of society in congregate settings where the only residents are people with disabilities.
We are failing Minnesotans with disabilities by limiting their choices for true inclusion in their communities. People with disabilities are isolated because they do not have true belonging. Progress is stalled because of the deeply rooted ableism in our society.
Moving forward with solutions
If we want to solve this crisis, we must make structural changes that will stop it from continuing. It is essential that we reduce reliance on congregate settings—large and small—which are highly dependent on paid staff that we simply do not and will not have. We must find solutions to ensure that Kylen, Lauren, and so many thousands of other Minnesotans are able to get flexible supports in their own homes.
There were several proposals this legislative session that would address this issue through structural transformation. The Arc’s agenda items related to accessible housing and removing barriers for people to live in homes of their own were critical proposals that could have helped us move in the right direction. Informed choice in housing cannot happen until we increase affordable, accessible, and inclusive housing throughout the state; and until all people with disabilities have equal opportunity and limited barriers in their choice of living options. The legislature’s failure to reach an agreement or pass important spending bills is not only disappointing, but it is devastating to the progress Minnesotans with disabilities deserve and need right now.
Minnesotans with disabilities have a right to an inclusive society and flexible supports that promote a rich, full life. We cannot allow the failures of the current system to continue to impede on this important right. It is time for everyone to take responsibility for this. Systems cannot truly care for people; only people can care for each other. Friends, neighbors, churches and communities are ready and waiting—if we can find a way to engage them and welcome them in.
Many disabled people are thriving in our communities today. They are strong and capable and resilient. We can no longer rely solely on a direct support workforce to support disabled people. We need all members of our communities to be part of the solution—not just disability professionals. Employers can hire talent. Landlords can offer rental solutions. Neighbors can provide support and friendship. If we tap into the natural abundance in our communities, people are, can and will be connected, involved and have belonging. If you want to be part of this movement and part of the solution, please contact The Arc Minnesota to get involved.
For more information on finding A Home of One’s Own, please check out The Arc Minnesota’s three-part training series from April/May 2022. You can review the sessions and download the resources here.
Watch Andrea Zuber’s speech addressing social change and Brilliant Truths—Navigate to 31:02 in the recording
Letters from the CEO is The Arc Minnesota’s series of blog posts from CEO Andrea Zuber about our priorities and passions as an organization.