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DACs ask MN lawmakers for wage increase

People with developmental disabilities often have great personalities and a zest for life, but in some places in Minnesota they have to put up with a lot of change among their care providers.

And that's not good for anyone.

The problem is that pay at developmental achievement centers and residential group homes across Minnesota is not keeping up with pay increases in other fields, including the fast food industry.

The Becker County DAC in Detroit Lakes is fortunate in that it has relatively low turnover among its 23 employees, said Executive Director Chad Baethke. "We are one of the fortunate few that have a lot of long-term staff without a lot of turnover," he said.

Not all DACs are so fortunate.

The DAC in Montevideo, for example, has 11 positions and last year 10 of those 11 positions turned over, said Sherie Wallace, owner of The Wallace Group, which is lobbying the Legislature on the issue.

"People with disabilities really need that personal care, and just when they get to know them (staffers), they're gone," she said.

It leaves the people there without a sense of peace and stability, and "it's very difficult to run an organization when people quit frequently—they're always training new employees."

Attracting and keeping good employees can also be a challenge at some of the residential group homes in the area, Baethke said.

Stability is very important to people with disabilities, especially at their homes, and a lot of people outside the system don't understand that, he said. When there is high turnover at a group home, or if it is just chronically under-staffed, which also happens frequently, the residents suffer for it, and workers at the DAC see that when they come there in the daytime for training.

It's a statewide problem, says Mike Burke, president of the Minnesota Organization for Habilitation and Rehabilitation, which is pushing the Legislature to act this year to ensure people with disabilities get quality care.

"It is estimated that there are 8,700 unfilled direct support positions in Minnesota right now, and that number is growing as pay rates continue to lag behind other industries," he said. "It is hard to lose able, talented and passionate employees because they can earn more flipping burgers at a local fast-food shop," Burke said.

Like nursing home workers, the direct support professionals at DACs, residential group homes and extended employment agencies, including those in Detroit Lakes, are heavily dependent on a Medicaid payment formula for their wages, which now average about $12 an hour across the state, Wallace said. This region receives less, Baethke said.

The Best Life Alliance, a Minnesota coalition of advocates, is asking state legislators to increase wages by 4 percent in fiscal year 2017 (which starts in July) and another 4 percent in fiscal year 2018 for all direct support professionals, Burke said. DAC staff last received a raise of 5 percent in 2014, Wallace said.

"It's needed," Baethke said. "These folks work really hard and so many have to work a couple jobs to make it—I give them kudos for all they do."

Group homes and DACs across the state are not only plagued by staff shortages, but they also have to deal with a lot more red tape these days.

There are new audits, studies and policies to comply with, often with no funds attached to help pay for the extra work involved. That means staff too often have to get paperwork done instead of working with the clients, Burke said.

"This takes time away from actually providing service to the people who need it most," he said.

Long-term, the Detroit Lakes DAC is also concerned about caps on the funding system that are slated to go away in 2019-2010. If the funding formula isn't fixed before then, the Detroit Lakes DAC would see funding cuts of 20-30 percent, Baethke said.

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