An Entire Industry Has Reached the Cliff

December 27, 2023
Posted By: Mike Hyland

For two generations, Massachusetts has been a national leader in providing supports and services to people in need, particularly people with developmental disabilities.  Through a network of private agencies, people with disabilities and other needs have been given the opportunity to live in nice communities while receiving support from a highly skilled and compassionate workforce of professionals.  The human services industry in this state serves thousands of people every day but now that industry, in spite of decades of success, is teetering on the edge of a cliff.  We simply cannot allow it to fall over.

Throughout the country, this industry dedicated to helping others is finally in danger of collapsing.  And the word “collapsing” is not some sort of sensational exaggeration meant to spike interest; it is an accurate description of a genuine threat that has been growing for many years.  The dire situation at hand is rooted entirely in the fact that there simply aren’t enough people to do the invaluable work of helping those who need support.  ANCOR, a prominent and national trade association comprised of agencies that support people with developmental disabilities, commissions a now annual survey assessing the current stability of the safety net so many people rely on every day.  The numbers across the country are startling and they paint a bleak picture. 

Almost 600 agencies in 46 states responded to this year’s survey and the results are more than alarming. 95% of providers report moderate to severe staffing shortages in the past year and 54% of these providers operate in an area where there are few or no other agencies available to people. A staggering 77% of agencies stated that they have been forced to turn away new referrals because they do not have enough staff to help them and 72% of respondents indicated they are concerned about meeting quality standards now.  In addition, over 75% of agencies stated they have struggled to connect people to outside services due to a lack of available professionals.  All of these numbers add up to a dark reality; people who need help can no longer find it because there is literally no one to help them.

How did this happen?  Well, for many decades this industry has been forced to toil in anonymity rather than being recognized as the highly skilled and economically vital profession that it is.  Low pay and extraordinary stress has prevented people from making a career in human services and now those who truly need help are suffering the consequences.  This trend can only be reversed with a long overdue commitment at both the state and federal levels to finally recognize the value of this industry and the consequences to society if it is no longer viable.  Massachusetts, like all states, must fully invest in developing meaningful contracting reforms that support significant wage increases, credits for child care and home ownership, and a platform for access to higher education for staff doing this work.  That is the way to finally attract and retain a workforce that permanently ensures a system of care that is professional, reliable, and economically efficient.  There is no more time to wait.  This type of investment needs to happen right now or the frightening numbers above will be even worse next year.

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