It was grim day for individuals with disabilities in Connecticut. Recently the Appropriations Committee announced a 1% Cost of Living Adjustment for the private providers of disability services. I have only this to say: This proposal has life-shattering consequences for nearly 420 group home residents that call Oak Hill home.
The Budget Reserve Fund boasts the highest surplus in its history. “Historic” investments are being made in every other aspect of Connecticut’s infrastructure. Why not invest in the hardworking individuals who provide life-changing services to those who need them most? We asked for a 9% and 7% increase over the course of the next two years. This boost would have helped Oak Hill keep pace with inflation and pay our staff a living wage.
There’s no question that these are most difficult times many of us have lived through. Inflation continues to climb while we struggle to rebound from the sorrows and challenges of a pandemic that forced our healthcare system to the brink of collapse. As the largest private provider of disabilities in Connecticut, Oak Hill is still reeling. Our workforce was once 1,500 strong. The state sets our rates, and due to chronic underfunding, we can’t pay a living wage to the staff that is charged with caring for individuals. They are nurses and teachers, OTs, and PTs, social workers, maintenance, and administrative staff who selflessly come to work every day to provide compassionate care to our group home residents and students. Our staff are the backbone of our services. Why are they being paid like it’s 2007?
Our 1,200 staff mean everything to the individuals we serve. Our Residential Direct Support Professionals are present for the most intimate and personal moments of our residents’ lives. Our staff hold their hands at doctor’s appointments, help them bathe, and ensure they have every comfort of home and opportunity afforded to them.
Oak Hill’s promise is that every individual we serve can enjoy the moments and opportunities that make life sweet. We cannot keep that promise without our staff, many of whom have gone without commensurate compensation for over 17 years. These same staff gave up time with their families and subjected themselves to quarantine during the height of the pandemic, to care for our group home residents. They were heroes then.
A 1% increase over the biennium jeopardizes the 420 lives the State of Connecticut has entrusted to Oak Hill. Many of the individuals who live in our group homes have been with us for over 40 years. After decades of empowering their growth and independence, how is it possible that we can no longer afford to care for them? The State contracts with us to provide these essential services, yet they do not think our staff are essential enough to be included with reasonable increases for the cost of living adjustments we deserve.
Join Oak Hill as we ask Gov. Ned Lamont, Sen. Martin Looney, Rep. Matt Ritter, OPM Secretary Jeffrey Beckham, and Jonathan Dach, the governor’s chief of staff, to do better. It has long been the rallying cry of our state’s legislative and executive branch leadership that we ought to thank and elevate the “heroes” who stepped up during the darkest hour of the pandemic. Day after day, we are assured that proactive steps will be taken to raise all Connecticut residents to prosperity.
Are they heroes no more? We need a comprehensive COLA package that recognizes the value of our staff’s and residents’ lives. They are both at stake now.
Barry Simon is President and CEO of Oak Hill.