A staffing crisis in the state agency that cares for disabled individuals in group homes prompted a plan to move dozens of residents into a day center in Wyoming County until the plan was shut down the same day by Gov. Kathy Hochul’s administration after it became aware of what was happening, according to a report by the Times Union of Albany.
The newspaper reported Wednesday that residents from several group homes in the Wyoming County area were going to be moved into a gymnasium at the Silver Lake Day Services center in Perry, a facility run by the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities. The Times Union said it had obtained a copy of the tentative floor plan that showed where cots were going to be set up.
A source with knowledge of the situation told The Livingston County News that as many as 36 individuals were to have been moved from four group homes, including two in Livingston County and two in Wyoming County, to the Silver Lake center on Standpipe Road.
Jennifer O’Sullivan, a spokeswoman for OPWDD, told the Times Union on Wednesday afternoon that the agency “will not be moving forward with this move of residents into the day centers, but are continuing to evaluate other options to ensure safe staffing levels.”
O’Sullivan told the newspaper that OPWDD’s provider agencies, like others across the country, “are facing a workforce shortage of crisis proportions ... We recognize that staff have been working under a tremendous burden of significant overtime conditions and pledge to do everything within our power to improve this siutation for them moving forward under the new administration.”
O’Sullivan said the agency also is considering a plan to consolidate group homes “to maintain quality care and workplace conditions.”
OPWDD is responsible for coordinating services for New Yorkers with developmental disabilities, including intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorders, Prader-Willi syndrome and other neurological impairments. The agency provides services directly and through a network about nonprofit service providing agencies, with about 80 percent of services provided by the private non-profits and 20 percent provided by state-run services.
Last week, in response to questions emailed by The Livingston County News, O’Sullivan said that no residential programs in Livingston or Wyoming counties had closed or suspended programs, but acknowledged that “if staffing levels drop further, OPWDD may need to consider additional suspensions.”
OPWDD programs had been temporarily suspended in 11 programs across Seneca, Ontario, Monroe, Wayne and Chenango counties, O’Sullivan said in a Nov. 18 email.
“At this time, OPWDD does not have the staff to safely support the operation of both our residential programs and on-site day services concurrently in several counties within the Finger Lakes region, therefore adjustments are being made to ensure that people can continue to receive essential supports,” O’Sullivan wrote to The LCN.
A residential program is home to the people supoorted by OPWDD, while day habilitation services are typically provided by a separate day program and include personal, social and vocational supports.
“At times we must make temporary adjustments to maintain appropriate staffing levels to ensure that the people we support continue to have access to quality services,” O’Sullivan wrote.
If a program is suspended, O’Sullivan wrote, “appropriate alternative housing is identified for the people that reside in the homes that are temporarily suspended and staff is also reassigned, in most cases with the people they support, until such time that we can achieve appropriate staffing levels to return to the home.”
There are 21 state-operated residential programs in Livingston County and four in Wyoming County. This umber does not include residential programs operated by OPWDD service providers.
Residential programs in Livingston County support 177 residents, and employ 123 direct support workers. In Wyoming County, 43 people utilize state-operated residential programs, which are staffed by 29 direct support workers.
OPWDD Acting Commissioner Kerri Neifeld, in an introductory message on Nov. 10, said workforce challenges were “the most pressing issue” facing the agency.
“These challenges were significant before the pandemic and have steadily worsened since the onset of COVID-19,” Neifeld worte.