HEALTH

Disability assistance workers in Utah, and the disabled, suffering from lack of funding

Jan 20, 2022, 7:53 PM | Updated: Jan 21, 2022, 2:38 pm
disability assistance Utah...
Jan. 22, 2022: LuWenn Jones, Neil Allred and Mike Menning, speaking at a press conference on labor shortages impacting the disabled service industry. Photo: Paul Nelson

SALT LAKE CITY — Advocates for the disabled in Utah, and disability assistance workers, say a lack of state funding is badly impacting people in need.  Specifically, they say that pay for disability workers is so low, long-term care centers can’t find enough people to fill the jobs. 

And this is leading to some disabled people being neglected and missing basic services. They’re also missing meals and, in extreme cases, being kicked out of their homes.

Disability assistance industry and “the great resignation”

Utah’s unemployment rate still hovers around 2.1 percent. But Workforce Service officials say spots would be unfilled even if the 50 thousand people currently looking for work in Utah became employed tomorrow. 

The disability assistance industry is not immune from “The Great Resignation.” Or, the recent period where workers left jobs for better pay and opportunities.  Neil Allred with Northeastern Services says the average wage for someone working in this field is $12.50 per hour, which is not enough to attract quality workers.

“If we can’t provide services, there is nowhere for [many disabled people] to go,” Allred said.

Cedar City resident LuWenn Jones has seen staffing shortage problems at the disability center where her daughter is treated.  She says new workers are coming and going so quickly, she doesn’t always have time to learn their names. 

Jones believes this industry attracts people with kind hearts. Still, the industry is underfunded. It has been underfunded for many years, she said. 

“I cannot fault them for pursuing other career opportunities when their beginning wages are relatively low, even in a better economy, and relative to the difficult work they’re tasked with,” Jones said.

Turnover in disability industry impacting patient care

Mike Menning has a non-verbal son who has developed his own method for communicating with others. But it takes time for people to understand it.  With so many workers leaving, Menning doubts whether new employees truly know the best way to treat his son. 

Menning says the center is so understaffed, workers have decided to put his son back in diapers. He says his son knows how to use the bathroom with assistance.

“They’re forcing him to wet his pants and to soil his pants, and that is because of state policy,” Menning said.

The state received federal funding which boosted salaries for some disability service workers to $17.50 per hour. The $40 million could raise all salaries to the same level, advocates say.

Menning believes they should be asking for more.

“The way that inflation is going in this state … in this country, I should say, even if we get to $17.50 with the $40 million, we’re going to have the same problem in two years,” he said.

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Disability assistance workers in Utah, and the disabled, suffering from lack of funding