Group home closures put many Minnesotans with disabilities at risk, advocates say – InForum

ST. PAUL — Minnesotans with various disabilities face an ominous future as a wave of group home closures hits the state, driven by staffing shortages and low wages for direct support professionals, advocates say .

More than 170 group homes across Minnesota have closed since the fall, said Sarah Abbott, director of ACR Homes, which serves residents who need wheelchair-accessible housing and individualized medical care.

That’s more than 4% of group homes in the state closing in less than a year, according to ARRM, a Minnesota nonprofit that represents home and community service providers.

Abbott joined staff, parents, family members and residents with disabilities at a Friday, June 24 rally outside the Governor’s Residence in St. Paul to bring their concerns to Governor Tim Walz and lobby for a special session for more funding.

“When we ask people to sign up to do physical labor in harsh healthcare environments and at less pay than you can get working in a fast food restaurant, at some point we have to stop fooling us,” said Kevin Zabel, director of communications at the ARRM.

He said for direct support professionals, the state and federal government reimburse through Medicare and Medicaid at about $14 an hour. Some organizations that oversee group home care can supplement those salaries through charitable foundations or supplemental revenue, and some don’t, he added.

In the legislative session that ended in May, lawmakers failed to agree on a proposal that could add about $250 million to the state budget for people with disabilities, some of those funds being intended to increase the salaries of direct support professionals.

“Nothing – nothing – came for disability services, which was very frustrating for residential providers, because lawmakers know the really, really scary situation our industry finds itself in right now,” Zabel said. .

Sarah Christensen, a resident of a group home, holds a sign that reads: ‘Don’t Make Homeless Disabled’. She attended a Friday, June 24 rally at the Minnesota Governor’s Residence calling for increased state funding for disability services.

Sarah Gelbard / MPR News

In the meantime, when homes close, residents have to temporarily move into larger facilities or stay with aging relatives who may not be able to quit their jobs and provide all the necessary care. Advocates fear residents will be left without safe alternatives.

Attendees at Friday’s rally held signs reading “Where will I live?”, “Better pay for our hard-working staff!” and “Don’t Make Homeless Disabled”.

“The reason you have to stop and take a look at these wheelchairs is that they have individual medical needs,” said Sarah Christensen, a resident of a group home who came at the gathering with his mother, Ann. “Some of them have (feeding) tubes. Some of them have (tracheotomies).”

A few years ago at Christensen’s there were two staff members assigned to four residents living together. Then there was only one staff member to help the four residents. Many group homes are set up this way, with four residents sharing small communal spaces. Christensen’s home closed and she moved into a large assisted living facility.

It’s not home and there still aren’t enough staff to help residents like Sarah on community outings, said Melisa Stuckmayer, a nurse with ACR Homes.

“We really had to reduce our workforce to a minimum. It’s just unfortunate for everyone. »

Stuckmayer said it’s hard to spend so much time training direct support professionals only to lose them because salaries are low.

“As a woman with a disability, I see firsthand how critical this situation is,” Shaina Briscoe said.

Like Sarah, she is in her thirties. She said she was injured in a car accident while riding her bicycle. She is temporarily staying in an institution, but she wants to go home.

Briscoe said without enough support staff, that can’t happen.

Jennifer C. Burleigh