GLENS FALLS — Michelle Treffi takes great satisfaction in her work counseling the developmentally disabled on how to find and keep jobs.
“I do it because I love it,” said Treffi, one of about 250 people that attended a “#bFair2DirectCare Campaign” rally at Glens Falls Civic Center on Thursday to urge the state to increase Medicaid funding for wages at community agencies that provide services to the disabled.
Despite that satisfaction, she’s considered leaving her job at Community Work & Independence Inc. at times for a more lucrative career field, said Treffi, who works a second job in Lake George in the summer months to make ends meet.
“I have student loans I need to pay off. I have the same expenses everyone does,” she said.
Hiring and retaining workers is becoming more difficult as state minimum wage increases make wages in other careers, such as fast food restaurants, more competitive with agencies such as CWI, said Mark Donahue, CWI’s chief executive officer.
“Our staff seems to be getting lost in the shuffle,” he said.
CWI starts wages at $13 an hour, and some similar agencies have starting wages as low as $10 or $11 an hour, he said.
Staff work in a variety of roles including community residences, employment programs and day activity programs.
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Many jobs require specialized skills, and some require administering medications, Donahue said.
“The complexity of the work is pretty significant,” he said.
A coalition of agencies and advocacy groups is conducting a statewide campaign to urge Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature to allocate an additional $45 million in Medicaid funding in the new state budget, with the funding earmarked to increase wages at agencies that serve the disabled.
Statewide, agencies had a 9.3 vacancy rate in 2015, and a 23 percent turnover rate, largely due to wages, said Michael Seereiter, president and chief executive officer of the New York State Rehabilitation Association.
Agencies spent $6.4 million on overtime pay in 2015 because of staff shortages, he said.
Medicaid and private philanthropy generally are the only sources of revenue for agencies, Seereiter said.
Agencies that care for the developmentally disabled can’t bill individuals for services, like some other health care and human service agencies do, he said.