Officials talk staffing crisis closing group homes statewide

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR) — When Christie Haney’s daughter was abruptly relocated from her group home in Syracuse two months ago because of a severe staffing crisis, she described the experience as completely overwhelming. She quickly realized that her 29-year-old daughter with developmental disabilities wasn’t the only one affected.

Group homes run by the State’s Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) have been temporarily closing due to staffing shortages. According to OPWDD, 57 group homes have closed across the state.

Haney found an online community full of people in similar situations who banded together to create the New York Alliance for Developmental Disabilities, an organization working to advocate for and protect the rights of people with developmental disabilities.

The popular Facebook group has even grabbed the attention of notable politicians, including State Sen. John Mannion. “We have met several times and they’ve been very supportive. I’ve been supportive of them. They are a strong advocate to elevate the voices of families or individuals with disabilities for sure,” he said. 

Mannion isn’t stopping there, though. As chair of the State Senate’s Committee on Disabilities, he’s asking for the first cost of living increase in over a decade for OPWDD—a 5.4% jump, to be exact. He’s also asking for $500 million in next year’s budget to be used as a year-after-year added investment to support the needs of OPWDD. The federal government also dished out money to help aid the agency with workforce incentives through an additional $500 million.

Mannion says he hopes such steps will support increased wages for direct support professionals and help to reopen temporarily closed facilities, but he recognizes the solution won’t happen overnight.

He says, “I wish and I hope we can say we’re in a much better place 10 months from now or 10 days from now, but the reality is that it’s going to take time to rebuild the destruction.”

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