I know we all had hoped that by now we would have put the COVID pandemic behind us and returned to normal life. Unfortunately, even with many in our Orange County community stepping up to get vaccinated, the virus variants have hampered those efforts. The challenges have been particularly serious for our dedicated service providers who have struggled both with labor shortages and, most recently, direct care staff members out on leave due to COVID. Because these service provider challenges have an immediate and significant impact on the individuals and families we serve, I am reaching out to you now to provide an update on the situation.
COVID-Positive Staff Must Take Leave
As you may have seen in the news, California has issued rules that require a direct care worker who contracts COVID or who is exposed to someone with COVID to stay home and not return to work for at least five days, oftentimes longer. Since people with developmental disabilities are at greater risk from COVID, this measure provides vital protection for them as well as other direct care staff. However, we do recognize that it wreaks havoc on the lives of those we serve who rely on their service providers to meet critical day-to-day needs. One service provider I spoke with in the last few days noted that 30% of her team is currently out on COVID leave, and sadly her situation is not unique.
The situation for our service providers is very similar to the headline-making stories in recent weeks about airlines canceling thousands of flights for these same reasons. We are hopeful that the surge of COVID cases we’re seeing with the Omicron variant will diminish soon, with minimal serious complications for those infected. In the meantime, I want you to know that everyone involved is doing their very best to meet individual and family needs under incredibly challenging circumstances.
Labor Shortages Are Continuing and Worsening
As I have shared in the past, staff shortages and the inability of service providers to fill open positions are the primary reasons that some of those we serve have faced delays in beginning new services or resuming pre-pandemic services or service levels. Statewide, there simply are not enough direct care workers. And the relatively low wages that service providers are able to pay their workers put them at a big disadvantage when competing for employees.
Sadly, while RCOC and other regional centers have advocated — strongly and continuously — for increasing rates to a level that will enable our service providers to meet the wage and benefit requirements of today’s workers, we are not seeing this issue addressed adequately by California’s elected leaders.
Our RCOC team and colleagues throughout the state will continue to urge the Governor and Legislature to recognize and address our service providers’ challenges. In the meantime, I ask for your patience and kindness toward your direct care workers as we work together to ensure everyone has the services and supports they need. As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out to your RCOC Service Coordinator if you need any help or have any questions.
Thank you for your support and care for one another.