CEO Susan Constantino fights for DSPs at workforce hearing

Susan Constantino, CEO of CP Unlimited and President and CEO of CP of NYS, joined other executives, advocates, DSPs, and individuals with I/DD at a public hearing to evaluate the current workforce challenges of the I/DD service delivery system on Tuesday, September 14.

“What has the impact of our workforce crisis been on the people we support? Less staff who know and can provide the highest quality care/support to meet people’s unique needs. Higher turnover, causing lack of continuity in care and supports, thereby potentially decreasing the quality of care we offer. Fewer homes and programs available to support growing numbers of people and their families in need,” Constantino said to Senator John Mannion and members of the Senate Standing Committee on Disabilities.

A recent survey by New York Disability Advocates found that nearly 74% of DSP provider agencies experienced a higher vacancy rate than before the pandemic. Nearly half of surveyed agencies reported that they had to close programs or reduce operations due to staffing shortages. Unfortunately, without adequate funding provider agencies cannot provide wages competitive with sectors such as food service and retail to entice new workers.

The DSP workforce emergency affects continuity and consistency in the lives of the people being served. DSP workforce instability also affects provider agencies, as they struggle to maintain an adequate workforce and living wage for the 97,000 DSPs and ensure positive outcomes for the I/DD individuals to whom they provide critical supports and services.

Twenty people delivered testimony to the Senate Committee, including Jeff Paterson, Executive Director of CP Affiliate Empower in Western New York, and several of CP’s other partners in NYDA.  However, Constantino’s affiliation with CP Unlimited and CP of NYS gives her the unique perspective of seeing the ever-increasing workforce crisis through the focused lens of a direct service provider as well as the global view of a statewide advocacy association.

“My perspective is that of both a provider but also from our Affiliates’ collective experience in different locations across the State during the ever-increasing workforce crisis,” she said, noting that CP Unlimited offers residential, day, clinic, and other programs in and around NYC and employs more than 2,500 people. CP Affiliates statewide support almost 100,000 people with disabilities and their families and employ more than 19,000 people.

“It’s important to recognize that without a workforce the supports and services critical to people with I/DD don’t happen. People are not able to get up in the morning, bathe, eat meals, make doctor appointments, go to work – all the activities of daily living they might need assistance with don’t happen,” she said. “Families that were able to go to work because the supports were there are unable to go to work when those staff don’t show or aren’t there. And we, as a society, lose out because we’ve failed to ensure that the quality of life of those in need has been maintained – in fact, without a workforce and investment in workforce, we’re making a decision to discount the needs of people with I/DD across the State.  And we can’t let that happen.”

Constantino lambasted the State for moving forward with its plans to implement a cut of $238 million from providers for vacancy factor calculations.

“This is absolutely unconscionable and unnecessary,” she said. “Our providers must maintain operations of their homes even when the residents are home for visits with family, on vacation, or in the hospital or other health care facility. Suggesting that there’s something wrong with essentially keeping the lights on at the person’s home while they’re away demonstrates either a complete lack of understanding of the operations of these homes or perhaps something more punitive in motivation – either way, these cuts make no sense.”

Constantino ended on a note of partnership and optimism, offering solutions to the workforce crisis such as tax credits, career ladders for direct support professionals, and investment in the I/DD workforce to reach a living wage. She asked the State to be a partner in ensuring our workforce is valued and recognized for the critical role they play in so many people’s lives across New York State.

“We are looking for help in righting the ship – reestablishing the connection with the State to ensure our workforce’s efforts are prioritized and recognized,” she said. “We need a living wage – which means enough money from working one job with regular hours to support the housing, food, transportation and other fundamental needs of our workforce.  Any shortfall in that goal will not work.”