Through a privatized system of contractors, Arizona cares for about 35,000 individuals with severe developmental disabilities deemed by the state to be “at risk of institutionalization.” Instead, these individuals can receive services provided by direct service professionals employed by community providers, in their homes, other residential settings, day programs and work programs. These caregivers support people in a wide range of roles – skill training, companionship, assistance with medication and food, and personal care.
Since 2008, there have been unprecedented cuts in reimbursement rates. Since the 15 percent rate reduction, there have been well-intentioned, but insufficient, efforts to restore the funds. Currently, there are not enough resources built into Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System funding for wages for these employees, who make between $8 – 9.25 an hour. This has led to a 56 percent urban and a 70-85 percent rural area turnover rate, respectively, creating a shortage of these caregivers.
This is a crisis for anyone with a disability.
We are not asking the Legislature to reinstate 100 percent of the previously reduced funding, as we understand the challenges of the current budget. Instead, we are requesting to be restored to 2008 rates – a 7 percent funding increase, which is absolutely critical.
The people we serve, who need assistance through no fault of their own, deserve better. Unless we adequately address this caregiver shortage, providers will be unable to provide quality care and basic security to our most vulnerable residents. Our organization, the Hozhoni Foundation, experienced a massive unprecedented loss in our last fiscal year and we continue to struggle at the same level in the current year. We must have this 7 percent increase in funding.
Monica Attridge is CEO of the Hozhoni Foundation, Flagstaff and Prescott.