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R.I. health, human service organizations are calling for a special session to address workforce crisis

A coalition of 70 organizations penned a letter to Gov. McKee that said they “simply cannot wait” until January
By Alexa Gagosz, Boston Globe Staff, Updated September 23, 2021, 5:27 p.m

To view the full letter, CLICK HERE.

PROVIDENCE — A coalition of 70 organizations related to health and human services released a letter Thursday that called on Governor Dan McKee and the Rhode Island General Assembly to address the escalating workforce crisis they said was “crippling” the system. “The system has been chronically underfunded for years and the pandemic has now propelled it into a crisis situation, destabilizing the system and adversely affecting access to care for thousands of Rhode Islanders,” read the letter. The instability of the community-based health and human service system impacts Rhode Island children, individuals with disabilities and behavioral health conditions, and elders who rely on the industry’s workforce and the organizations that employ these workers, the letter says.

“We simply cannot wait to respond to the current crisis until January, particularly at a time when there is funding available today,” Tina Spears, the executive director of the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island, said in a statement.

The letter said that due to the pandemic, caseloads and stress have led to increased turnover, lower morale, and “unparalleled levels of burnout” among the existing staff.

The General Assembly typically meets for each legislative year from January through June. Advocates are asking lawmakers, including the governor, to use newly received federal dollars to help address the workforce crisis that has left many organizations and nonprofits that serve the state’s most vulnerable understaffed.

The letter said the industry represents tens of thousands of Rhode Island workers who serve the state’s most vulnerable communities.

Without a “valued, well compensated workforce,” the letter added, Rhode Islanders who rely on these services will not receive them.

McKee’s office did not immediately respond to requests from the Globe, and it’s unclear if the governor has read the letter yet.

Signatures include David Caprio, president of Children’s Friend; Margaret Holland McDuff, chief executive of Family Service of Rhode Island; John Kelly, chief executive of Meeting Street; Jamie Lehane, president of Newport Mental Health; among others.

The organizations and people that signed the letter asked all elected leaders to immediately begin appropriating a minimum of $100 million of the state’s $1.1 billion in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, the state’s $51 million in budget surplus from 2021, or its $115-150 million in Home and Community Based Service Enhanced FMAP funding to increase wages across the community-based health and human service system, to provide appropriate funding to cover additional costs associated with operating during the pandemic, and to initiate a robust workforce development strategy.

The coalition also asked the elected officials to invest in sustainable planning and rate reform to ensure the health and human service system has the capacity to meet the needs, ensure all workers receive a living wage, and to compensate clinical and professional staff competitively.

The coalition says children in DCYF care, children with developmental disabilities; and youth and adults with behavioral health, substance abuse conditions, and developmental disabilities are “all at risk if more state support is not forthcoming soon.”

“Without a sustainable workforce, the capacity of behavioral health providers has been strained to unprecedented levels, resulting in delayed care for thousands of individuals in need,” says Cliff Cabral, CEO of Horizon Healthcare Partners. “We need to follow the lead of our neighboring states and take action immediately or risk a further rationing of critical care.”

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