Newport County organizations describe acute mental health and human service needs and urge legislative action to ease workforce crisis

A coalition of 12 organizations who care for some of Newport County’s most vulnerable neighbors issued an urgent call for action yesterday.

 

The Newport County Community Healthcare Collaborative’s member organizations provide services across the healthcare and human service continuum to at-risk moms and families, those struggling with mental health crises, the physically and developmentally disabled, the chronically ill, victims of trauma, and the elderly. They have coalesced around Rhode Island’s workforce destabilization and state reimbursement rate setting crisis.

 

Yesterday’s Community Conversation on Human Services and the Workforce Crisis was attended by Senators Lou DiPalma and Dawn Euer and Representatives Marvin Abney, Lauren Carson, Terri Cortvriend, Michelle McGaw, and Deborah Ruggiero. Speakers included Joan Rossi, maternal child health and pediatric nurse manager at Visiting Nurse Home & Hospice, and Jefrey Gaines, MD, chief medical officer at Newport Hospital.

 

The Collaborative released the results of a survey of five of Newport County’s largest healthcare organizations. Respondents included Child & Family, East Bay Community Action Program, Newport Mental Health, PACE Organization of Rhode Island, and Visiting Nurse Hope & Hospice. The survey (results attached) found:

  • Staff vacancy rates range from 4-22%, and organizations are down anywhere from 7 to 70 employees. The high turnover and vacancy rates are costly, with 40% of survey respondents estimating the cost to their organizations to be $250,000-500,000.
  • 80% of the respondents say that, without a doubt, patients and clients have been negatively impacted by their staffing challenges. 80% have increased the number of cases per employee and seen an increase in the volume of clients waiting for services.
  • It takes the organizations an average of 2.4 months to fill nurse positions and 1.6 months to fill direct care positions.
  • On a scale of 1 (not challenging at all) to 100 (very challenging), responding organizations rated the challenge of recruiting workers at 91. Candidates are turning jobs down or withdrawing from the application process because the salaries are too low.
  • On the same scale, respondents rated the challenge of retaining workers at a 71. All five organizations reported that existing employees are leaving for jobs outside of the industry that pay more money.
  • 100% of the responding organizations have implemented hiring bonuses, and 80% have adjusted salaries. 60% have changed the hiring criteria for positions and increased overtime.

Deborah Carlson, coordinator of peer services at Newport Mental Health, noted, “People come into this field as a calling, but it is not sustainable if this calling requires a vow of poverty. Our staff face the same challenges that exist in the lives of the people we serve: decent affordable housing, access to health care that they can afford, quality nutrition. At our current wages, many of us are using food pantries and live in suboptimal housing.”

 

The Collaborative called on the General Assembly to take short- and long-term action. “We need immediate and lasting relief or many of our organizations will be forced to reduce our capacities and census more than we already have,” said Jennifer Fairbank, CEO of Visiting Nurse Home and Hospice. “This is and will have a devastating impact on Newport County — on our families, schools, employers, and much more — for generations to come. Agencies like ours were built over decades and if dismantled, cannot be stood up again quickly.”

 

The Collaborative’s requests for the General Assembly are to:

  1. Provide healthcare and human services organizations with an immediate infusion of cash to stabilize the workforce and meet the immediate critical needs of the community. This would offset the chronic underfunding deficit that has been created over the decades and allow organizations to competitively recruit staff and retain their talented employees.
  2. Increase reimbursement rates and transparently bake into future budgets a sustainable rate reimbursement model. Rhode Island has not revisited its reimbursement rates for health and human services organizations for decades, leaving organizations unable to pay competitive wages and the safety net extremely fragile.

“We’re grateful to all of the members of our legislative delegation for listening to the voices of clients, frontline staff, and providers and for hearing our pleas for help,” said Marty Sinnott, president and CEO of Child & Family. “Their leadership has been critical to getting this issue on the General Assembly’s radar, and we now call on the full legislature to act.”

 

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About the Newport County Health Care Collaborative:

 

We are the Medicaid home and community-based service groups that are providing shelter, childcare, healthcare, mental health counseling, and food to families in crisis throughout our communities. Members include: Child & Family, East Bay Community Action Program, Greater Newport Chamber of Commerce, Looking Upwards, Newport Hospital, Newport Mental Health, Newport County Prevention Coalition, Newport Partnership for Families, PACE Organization of Rhode Island, Strategic Prevention Partnerships, Visiting Nurse Home & Hospice, and Women’s Resource Center.

 

 

CLICK HERE to watch a recording of the Community Conversation that was held May 16, 2022. Access Passcode: Um.2y=32