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The Perfect Storm: Home based medical providers are burning out at an alarming rate

Published: Oct. 27, 2021 at 5:47 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) -We all have heard about the nationwide hospital staff shortages, but what you may not know is, the home and community-based medical providers are struggling and burning out at an alarming rate.

“One of our board members in a rural community reported that they are 71% short of the staff that they have,” Lizette Stiehr, Executive Director of the Alaska Association on Developmental Disabilities, said. “In other words, they are staffed at 29% of the Direct Support Professionals that they need to offer the services that have been authorized by the state.”

The Executive Director of the Alaska Association on Developmental Disabilities is a non-profit company that works statewide with 60 providers that offer services to people with developmental disabilities.

Stiehr said staff shortages range from organization to organization but what remains the same is each provider is making severe cuts to their care and services.

“If you have an organization and you have people living in residential care, and you have people that you are serving in their homes or you are taking them out into the community... What do you do when you are short-staffed?” Stiehr asked. “Of course, you pull your staff from the community services into providing health and safety for people in the residential settings, of course.”

The Fairbanks Resource Agency, a non-profit Alaska corporation dedicated to assuring that Interior Alaskans with disabilities and their families have equal opportunity to be fully included in the community, said they had to cut some of their services as well.

Services affected include their Adult Day Center and their Art Center. They even had to skip taking their clients to activities in the community.

“So we really are down a quarter to a third of our workforce, and we are particularly hard hit in the direct service positions,” Emily Ennis, Executive Director for the Fairbanks Resource Agency, said.

What caused this shortage seemed to be the perfect storm.

“With the onset of COVID, we started losing more and more of our staff on a weekly basis,” Ennis said.

Beyond COVID, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services website was shut down in May, causing a massive backlog in background checks, which have to be provided by the department.

“If we could be allowed to access 3rd party background checks from other places where they are legitimate and completed... would be incredibly helpful,” Stiehr said.

Then there is the issue of wages, which Stiehr said has not been increased by the state for 12 years. She said the state pays someone who works with people with intellectual or developmental disabilities, or Direct Support Professionals (DSP), to work at wages ranging from $11 to $17 an hour.

“We are asking them to do work that is more intense than what we ask [Certified Nursing Assistants] to do. A wider range of expectations about their ability to train and all of the medication supervision. And so we are asking them to be incredibly qualified and skillful,” Stiehr said.

Stiehr said organizations like those she works with can only hope they get some relief soon; until then, they will continue to provide the best care they possibly can.

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