To Reverse Crisis, Raise Pay for Health Workers
To the Editor:
The Newport County Community Healthcare Collaborative is an association of 10 organizations that came together to combat vaccine hesitancy and limit the damage of the pandemic. Our work focused on providing those experiencing the most severe impacts of COVID access to testing and vaccinations. This collaborative has brought together disparate organizations who have learned that by pooling resources, we can tackle difficult community issues.
While there is still more work to be done, our members have now encountered a new and equally devastating crisis – a full-scale workforce crisis within health and human services.
Persons working in health and human services professions are leaving in droves and there are no new recruits. It has eroded the safety net for our most vulnerable populations and is taking its toll on remaining providers. Our current situation is dire and must be addressed. The availability of health, prevention and treatment services, behavioral health counseling, home health care for seniors, substance abuse treatment, and outreach to at-risk families is seriously compromised.
Individuals and families are asking for assistance and are unable to obtain services. There are no appointments available for individuals in need of behavioral health and substance abuse counseling. An all-time high number of youths are in psychiatric hospitals because community providers have limited intake capacity. More than 60 youths have been placed in out-of-state facilities. To date, the state has seen a 28 percent increase in drug overdose deaths; 322 people with an average age of 42 have lost their lives.
Rhode Island is the only New England state that has not allocated the $1.2 billion in federal American Rescue Plan funds. We have communicated to our local legislators, several of whom serve in General Assembly leadership roles, but have seen no action.
The governor and leadership of the General Assembly have indicated that they intend to prioritize the release of these funds when the session resumes in January. The time is now to raise salaries of essential workers and provide rate relief to reverse the course of this crisis.
In addition, we need long-term strategies for workforce development to ensure the health, safety and economic well-being of our community, including rate reform to establish competitive wages for our clinical, professional and direct-service staff; long-term investment strategies to attract and sustain a strong service delivery system; resources for community based organizations to acquire new technologies; formal training for targeted health and human service workers; comprehensive apprentice expansion to cultivate career pathways; and higher education diploma tracks for the industry.
The General Assembly and governor need to designate $100 million in American Rescue Plan funds to address this crisis.
Jennifer Fairbank, CEO,
Visiting Nurse Home & Hospice
Jeffrey Gaines, MD, CMO,
Erin Donovan-Boyle, Exec. Direc., Greater Newport Chamber of Commerce
Jessica Walsh, Exec. Direc., Women’s Resource Center, Newport HEZ
Marty Sinnott, President and CEO, Child & Family
Joan Kwiatkowski, PACE-R.I., RIDOH, COVID Advisory Comm.
Stephanie McCaffrey, VP Health Administration, East Bay Community Action Program
Jamie Lehane, Exec. Direc., CEO, Newport Mental Health