MENDOTA HEIGHTS, MN (WCCO) – As group homes across the state struggle to find staff, some have been forced to close, leaving families to scramble. The facilities accommodate people with physical and developmental challenges.
To try to keep their homes open, a non-profit organization has made some changes. John Lauritsen shows us how these changes help.
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“In 35 years, I have never seen staffing difficulties like this,” said Rod Carlson of Living Well Disabilities Services.
For group homes across the state, the fight for staff has gotten so bad that there has been talk of bringing in the National Guard to help.
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“And certainly at some point the National Guard was suggested, the National Guard was early in COVID to help some nursing homes,” Carlson said.
It never came to this for Living Well in Mendota Heights. But sacrifices have been made to keep their nearly 40 homes in operation.
“We compete with restaurants and Costcos around the world. And all these other organizations that also need employees,” Carlson said.
To recruit more workers, Living Well raised their wages from $14.75 per hour to $16 per hour, for direct care workers. A modest increase that made a big difference.
Certified practical nurses also saw their wages increase to $17 an hour, which many group homes were unable to match. But that meant going into a budget shortfall to bring in nurses like Sunday Yengi.
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“I love it. I love working here,” Yengi said.
While the pay rise is attractive, Yengi said group homes need to recruit people who are passionate about helping others. She works in honor of her mentally handicapped brother who lives in South Sudan.
“When I work here with people who have mental disabilities, I feel like I’m helping my only brother,” Yengi said.
As part of its COVID plan, Living Well also lobbied for vaccination requirements before they were imposed.
“These are just rapid tests that we receive and are provided by the state,” said Annelies Stevens, director of health and welfare services.
They say it has made staff more comfortable working around residents with compromised immune systems.
“That’s what we were able to focus on and sustain, which I’m really happy with,” Stevens said.
Living Well said the changes have helped them hire more staff, but they are still missing a few nurses.
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As the nonprofit celebrates its 50th anniversary next week, it will lobby on Capitol Hill for higher wages for group home workers.