Opinion | Michigan must keep the wage supplement for direct care workers
The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the growing need and demand for effective mental health services. The current public health crisis has also exacerbated the challenges faced by providers who deliver these essential services to vulnerable Michigan residents.
A recent Kaiser Family Foundation report indicated that during the pandemic about four in 10 adults in the U.S. have reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, up from one in 10 adults who reported these symptoms from January to June 2019. Consequently, residential service providers like Beacon Specialized Living Services are facing myriad challenges resulting from the pandemic, such as increased demand for services, and rising costs related to maintaining safe environments for patients.
Despite the temporary wage increase and an excessive output of recruitment and retention resources and energy, providers statewide continue to struggle with filling literally thousands of open positions for direct support professionals while simultaneously maintaining standards as well as rigorous safety and infection control practices.
While the $2.25 supplemental wage increase currently allows providers such as Beacon to offer a starting wage of $12.50, this is still below what other states are funding and it is only temporary – set to expire again at the end of September. Mental health providers statewide are calling for permanent enactment of the wage increase on an ongoing basis per Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Fiscal Year 2021-2022 Budget Recommendation. We also need a clear “return to work” policy and funding support to help cover the costly weekly testing of employees who may refuse vaccination.
There are high costs associated with not providing adequate access to specialized mental health services, including detriments to quality of life, uncompensated emergency care, lack of medication compliance and increased hospitalizations. This permanent funding is a vital step to ensuring sustainability and retaining caregivers as they shoulder the critical, but challenging, work of caring for one of Michigan’s most vulnerable populations.
Our citizens and communities simply cannot afford the ramifications of letting this additional pay disappear. It would also recognize the awe-inspiring and critical work these caregivers provide to Michiganders with severe mental illness, developmental disabilities, chronic disease, or substance abuse disorders who rely on this care.
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