Todd Goodwin

Maine’s service system for people with disabilities, for older people and for people with behavioral health challenges is built on the backs of thousands of hard-working Mainers, who give every ounce of themselves every day in the most intimate and profound ways to ensure that people in need are safe, healthy and engaged in their communities.

We rightly call these caretakers unsung heroes and essential workers. Unfortunately, for far too long policy makers and funders have failed to back laudatory rhetoric with meaningful financial compensation that properly recognizes the value contribution these dedicated workers make in our families, our communities and our state.

John F. Murphy Homes is proud to call the Lewiston-Auburn area home in its nearly 45-year history of providing quality support services to people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities and autism. I am incredibly proud of the many hundreds of talented, thoughtful and dedicated direct support professionals we employ who are at the front lines of caring for those we serve.

I am also incredibly disappointed that state rate models that pay for services to people with disabilities allocate a staff wage component that is nearly a full dollar less than our state’s statutory minimum wage. This is an insult to these hard-working Mainers who are truly essential to a healthy, moral and ethical society. As price takers not price makers, we have no ability on our own to remedy this abomination.

Fortunately, we have an opportunity in front of us right now to rectify this problem that has been decades in the making. LD 1573, “An Act to Implement the Recommendations of the Commission to Study Long-Term Care Workforce Issues,” seeks to ensure that state rate models designed to support its most vulnerable citizens index the staff wage allocation to 125% of statutory minimum wage.

With a healthy state surplus and nearly $1 billion coming to Maine through the American Rescue Plan Act, the time is now to raise MaineCare and state-funded rates to stabilize and grow our state’s essential, frontline workforce.

We can do it, and we should do it. The many hundreds of direct support professionals of John F. Murphy Homes and the many more thousands across our state deserve it. These are good and honest people with families to raise, bills to pay and dreams to fulfill. These are people doing work that all of us take for granted. These are people who warrant more than lip service and platitudes about the contributions they make in our communities. They merit appropriate compensation in a manner befitting the word “professional.”

The need for direct support services continues to grow in our state and across the country. By any number of metrics, the growth in need is far outpacing the supply of workers. This has been a crisis in the making for a long time.

Without a robust essential frontline workforce, the system of care for Maine’s neediest citizens will collapse. Unfortunately, there is no Plan B. Our state relies on its network of provider agencies to deliver the care it is obligated to ensure. It is critical that we make the investment now in our essential frontline workforce.

Todd Goodwin is chief executive officer of Auburn-based John F. Murphy Homes.

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