Workforce shortage strains Pa.’s ID/A providers beyond breaking point

Ed Gruver//January 10, 2023

Workforce shortage strains Pa.’s ID/A providers beyond breaking point

Ed Gruver//January 10, 2023

Pennsylvania providers caring for individuals with intellectual disabilities and autism (ID/A) continue to deal with low wages, high vacancy rates, and high turnover, according to a new study conducted by the Center for Healthcare Solutions. 

Collaborating with The Arc of Pennsylvania, the Rehabilitation and Community Providers Association (RCPA), and The Provider Alliance (TPA), the Center for Healthcare Solutions produced a detailed report on the ID/A industry workforce. The study examined the financial trends driving the workforce shortage affecting ID/A settings and individuals of all ages. 

The Center for Healthcare Solutions has been conducting compensation surveys for health care, human services, and ID/A providers for more than four decades. Key findings in this latest report reveal that direct support professionals in the field receive an average wage of $16.61 per hour, have a vacancy rate of 28%, and a turnover rate of 38. For residential supervisors and other program supervisors, those figures read $22.20/28%/42% and $23.12/16%/19%, respectively. 

Nick Vizzoca, president and CEO of the Center for Healthcare Solutions, said in a statement the system is strained beyond its breaking point. 

“There isn’t a single survey respondent that isn’t feeling the effects of this workforce shortage,” Vizzoca said. 

The survey included 52 Pennsylvania organizations and represented a full array of services from every region across the state. Collected data included pay practices, hourly wages (starting, average, and maximum), scheduled positions, filled positions, and employee separations on a wide range of positions. 

More than 9,000 employees were included representing 40 different positions to evaluate wage compression issues and critical data on over 7,000 direct support professionals (DSPs), residential supervisors, and other program supervisors. The report reflects salaries in effect as of Sept. 30, 2022. 

Results of the survey reflect studies showing providers facing major staffing shortages, reducing caseloads, or cutting programs because of workforce issues, and trying to manage unprecedented vacancy and turnover rates, due largely to inadequate state reimbursements that keep wages low. 

“This wage study reinforces what we have been saying for a long time now,” said Richard Edley, Ph.D., president and CEO of RCPA. “Low wages are directly related to the high turnover and high vacancy rates that we’re seeing among Pennsylvania’s ID/A providers, and the individuals who are affected the most are those seeking care and support.” 

Along with the findings on low wages and high vacancy turnover rates, the study found that 41% of respondents are engaged in a more costly practice of contract staffing for services because of the workforce shortage. Some 14% of DSP hours are paid at the overtime rate, and providers must delve deep to provide credentialing incentives, tenure rewards, or bonuses to retain the workers they have. 

“With staff leaving these professions, ID/A providers are strained to serve the thousands of Pennsylvanians currently receiving and waiting for critical services,” said Sherri Landis, executive director of The Arc of Pennsylvania. 

Because human services like ID/A are funded primarily by Medicaid, providers cannot raise prices like private businesses to pay higher wages. Chronic underfunding by the state over the last decade has intensified staffing and operational challenges in the ID/A arenas. 

“Services are being reduced and, in some cases, eliminated entirely,” said Patrick DeMico, executive director of The Provider Alliance. “We can’t expect to recruit and retain direct support professionals at below-market wages and with no inflation adjustment for three years.”