On Tuesday, February 12, DADS Commissioner Jon Weizenbaum went before the House Appropriations Committee to discuss HB 1’s plan for DADS-SSLC’s. Discussed was the long term plan for SSLCs. In the agencies budget request, Commissioner Weizenbaum asked for funding for renovation and repair needed to keep the facilities up to code. The commissioner also came with statistics showing that DADS has the highest turnover rate among all state agencies. This is particularly true among direct care staff in SSLC’s. He talked about the low pay of direct care staff and the uncompetitive salaries of SSLC health professionals (LVNs, physicians, psychologist, etc). Commissioner Weizenbaum made the case to give direct care staff a 10% pay increase to combat high turnover. He also noted that higher turnover leads to unfilled vacancies which impact facilities’ ability to effectively care for individuals.
These requests opened up the debate on the future of SSLC’s. Some legislators asked if it’s worth repairing the 13 facilities if there is a possibility that SSLC’s could be closed, privatized or consolidated. Lawmakers also discussed a proposal for a cost analysis of institutional care versus community care for individuals with intellectual disabilities.
The Commissioner made it known that the agency is wasting a large amount of money on training new staff, due to the high turnover and that something needs to be done to keep people on the job. Rep. Dawnna Dukes was vocal in her support of the plan to improve pay for direct care staff saying, “unhappy employees have to deal with high workloads, higher worker to client ratios, and having to do mandatory overtime. Better pay means less turnover which means fewer vacancies and less money spent on overtime.” Dukes also asked what could be done to reign in over-zealous supervisors who place excessive pressure on direct care staff. The commissioner said they are looking into ways to make supervisors more accountable.
Public testimony closed out the committee hearing with the majority of witnesses coming from anti-SSLC groups. The majority of the testimony made the case for the closure of all SSLC’s. These groups want state-run facilities to be replaced by group homes. Advocates and families repeatedly made the case that the state has a bias toward institutionalization and cited statistics on abuse and neglect in SSLC’s to further strengthen their arguments. Community groups even went so far as to attack state employees and their union. Members from one client advocacy group (Community Now) testified that the only reason SSLC’s are still open is to protect union jobs and benefits. They also spoke out against DADS’ request to give direct care staff a 10% raise. They made the case that state direct care staff make the equivalent of $10/hr plus benefits and direct care in private community homes only make $7.25/hr with no benefits.
TSEU’s POSITION: SSLC’s are a critical part of the range of care options that should be available to all individuals with developmental disabilities. Most of the individuals in SSLC’s are low functioning and/or profoundly disabled and would not do well in a group home setting. SSLC’s are communities that offer critical services to its residents, but they do need improvement through reducing staff turnover and increasing resources for clients. This means increased funding for repairs and programs and an across-the-board pay raise to attract and retain quality staff.
What to do now:
1. Join the union! If you’re already a member, ask a coworker to join. The only way we’ll win a pay raise and keep SSLC’s open is by growing our union.
2. Call your legislator and tell them that SSLC’s are good for clients and the biggest problem is high turnover among staff. Ask them to support an across-the-board raise for state workers. You can find your legislator and their number at www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us.
TSEU ORGANIZER CONTACT: JOE MONTEMAYOR