Shortage of providers triggers care access crisis for Utahns with disabilities / Public News Service

Advocates say Utah lacks skilled workers to provide home and community services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Lawmakers at the state and federal levels are debating measures to increase funding for public and private health care providers, but no action has been taken.

Utah lawmakers heard a report last week from state health officials, showing they have nearly 1,000 vacancies for disability care providers.

Nate Crippes, supervising attorney at the Utah Disability Law Center, said the lack of hiring limits access to care.

“There are about 6,000 people in those wards right now,” Crippes reported. “The state currently has a waiting list of 4,000 people. And if providers can’t find staff to provide the support these people need, that’s going to cause real problems.”

Crippes pointed out in recent years that there has been an effort to get people out of institutions to provide treatment. the Utah State Developmental Center provides direct care, but also partners with private groups for home and community services.

The average Utah salary for disability care workers is well below what many consider a “living wage.” Crippes argued that the industry cannot attract qualified personnel because their budgets are ultimately decided by the state legislature.

“People who provide services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the home and community say the rates for these workers are really, really low,” Crippes said. “I think the average is around $11.50 an hour.”

The Utah Legislature’s Social Services Subcommittee heard comments last week on pending legislation to increase disability care spending by up to $40 million. Crippes pointed out that advocates hope Congress can pass a section of the blockade Building back better which allocates $150 billion to community care.

“It looks like there might be some interest in trying to do pieces of this legislation individually rather than as a whole,” Crippes noted. “I think that would make a huge difference that would certainly allow the state to potentially expand services or do more.”

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