Care worker compensation a hurdle to retention for Utahn’s with disabilities

By Stafford Newsome
Capital West News

Poor compensation has led to improper training among care workers for disabled Utahns, according to witnesses who testified before the Social Services Appropriations Subcommittee on Capitol Hill.

Legislators, social workers, and other witnesses all asserted that funding has left members of the disabled community with an inadequate system. The low wages have led to high employee turnover and limited experience among staff working to help people with disabilities, a condition that has left the subcommittee with limited solutions.

Utah State Capitol Building

Utah State Capitol Building

Justin Olsen, who lives in a group home, talked about the high turnover rate among service employees. “ In my three years of living in a group home, I’ve had 242 staff,” he said.

Olsen explained that since workers don’t get paid enough, their training is insufficient to properly help those in need, and many are not willing to stay because other jobs pay more and are less demanding.

Paul Smith, the director of Utah’s Division of Services for People with Disabilities, explained that the Division of Services employment conditions have been stressed. “This is because wages in movie theaters and fast food [are] higher than what [the state government] is willing to pay for care of our adults and children in need.”

Employee turnover rate was reported at 90 percent and Utah, “ tied with Texas for having the lowest paid providers,” Smith said.

After the presentations from the general public and social service workers, the committee members conceded the presented points, and agreed almost whole heartedly that the problem with poor care and underfunding was significant.

“We don’t pay them enough. We recognize that,” said Committee Chair Sen. Allen M. Christensen, R-North Ogden; however, he ultimately acknowledged that there are simply not enough resources to begin with.

Wages to DPSD care providers already constitute the largest percent of the organization’s budget, and Christensen revealed that even a simple raise of 80 cents per hour would cost the state $10 million. This is a figure that cannot be added to the future budget without cutting the budgets of other necessary programs, he said.

Olsen and those receiving aid like him, will likely not see additional funding or improvements in the coming year due to budget constraints. Still, Christensen assured him that the issue is high on his personal priority list, and that if the dollars can be found they will be used to try to improve care for Utahns living with disabilities.

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