Since the COVID-19 pandemic began tearing through the United States, we’ve heard a lot about overloaded systems and people suffering as a result. We’ve heard about overwhelmed hospitals and nursing homes, and the doctors and nurses on the front lines.
But what we haven’t heard about are people with disabilities — specifically those with intellectual and developmental disabilities — and the Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) on the front lines.
On the forgotten front lines, DSPs and other essential support staff are helping people with disabilities remain in their homes and communities, maintaining their independence, staying safer and recovering more quickly when they become infected. Mainstream Living is proud to employ over 450 essential workers who show up each and every day ready to face this challenge. They are dedicated and compassionate, all while facing a lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), long hours, and repeated exposure to the coronavirus that puts themselves and the ones they love at risk.
While our federal and state governments have rightly moved to quickly provide for front-line health care workers, they have repeatedly overlooked Medicaid-funded providers of disability services, including the DSPs.
Now, Medicaid-funded providers in our industry are facing extreme financial difficulties due to lost revenue and increased expenses. Not only have we closed programs and reduced services, but we’re spending more to protect and support our staff during this crisis. We’re facing massive overtime expenses, hazard pay, and additional costs to purchase PPE. Some in our industry will be forced to close, leaving an impact that will be felt in the disability community long after this pandemic ends.
Congress has already committed funding for essential health care workers through the Public Health & Social Services Emergency Relief fund, but the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has yet to allocate any of the $175 billion Congress appropriated to Medicaid providers. Therefore, Congress must exercise its critical oversight authority and ensure HHS takes immediate action to stop overlooking people with I/DD and the providers on which they rely. Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, as Iowa’s champions on Capitol Hill, can lead the way.
There are amazing things happening behind our doors. Our day programs have closed, but instead of leaving people isolated in their homes, our staff have stepped up to provide regular activities. We’re finding new ways to connect to people through telehealth technology. We’re providing additional compensation to our staff who have volunteered to work with those who test positive for COVID-19. Support is critical in providing at-home opportunities to those we serve and compensating an already underpaid workforce as they sacrifice their own health and safety.
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Without funding to accomplish all we need to do, we risk seeing a great decline in the number of opportunities for Iowans with disabilities to live independently. Sens. Ernst and Grassley: now more than ever, we need your support to ensure the right resources get into the right hands — before it’s too late.
William Vaughn is president & CEO of Mainstream Living, Inc., an Ames-based nonprofit. email@example.com.