Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Families seeking therapy and other services for loved ones with developmental disabilities are encountering a familiar problem in New Mexico – a shortage of people available to work.
To address the challenge, two state lawmakers plan to ask their peers in the 2023 session to pass a bill mandating the collection and reporting of employment and payroll data in the area — a small first step, they say, to help future ones to guide decisions. about how to strengthen the workforce.
In interviews, Rep. Elizabeth Thomson and Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, both Democrats from Albuquerque, said the goal is to provide the Legislature with meaningful information about staffing levels and starting wages in agencies that serve people with disabilities.
After that, a concrete plan to address the labor shortage would follow — strategies aimed at getting frontline workers better compensation, or other efforts to build a robust pool of caregivers and other providers.
Thomson, whose 31-year-old son with severe autism lives in a group home and needs 24-hour care, said she’s seen firsthand how difficult it is to keep workers on site.
“There are people who have the heart and want to do it but can’t afford it,” she said.
Ortiz y Pino said the state was using federal funds to remove individuals from a massive waitlist for services under the developmental disabilities program. But even with available funds, he said, families are struggling to find services for their loved ones.
Frontline workers at care agencies can help a person with developmental disabilities prepare food, take medication, use the bathroom, see the doctor, and look for a job. They also provide moral support.
“It’s hard work,” said Ortiz y Pino. “It’s not as easy as flipping burgers.”
Employees should therefore be paid fairly for the skills they bring to the job, he said.
The legislation under consideration would enact a wage transparency law and require providers to report personnel and wage data to the state.
There would also be a biennial cost study to help determine the appropriate government reimbursement rate for agencies that provide services to people with disabilities.
The study would have to assume that the professionals who directly support people with developmental disabilities are paid 150% of the state minimum wage.
Pamela Stafford, organizational director of New Mexico Caregivers in Action, a nonprofit group, said a headcount review is critical, especially given the isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The health restrictions meant people in group homes sometimes couldn’t leave the house or receive family visits, she said, increasing the importance of adequate staffing.
A labor shortage “puts people at risk,” Stafford said.
The proposed legislation “won’t solve any problems in the short term,” she said, but it could provide information to guide future workforce-building strategies.
The 60-day legislative period is scheduled to begin on January 17th. An oil boom brings in plenty of government revenue, but lawmakers have grappled with hiring and retaining workers in a range of jobs — public safety, healthcare and education.