OP-ED | Converting State Human Service Programs To Community-based Saves Money & Quality Care

By Gian-Carl Casa | March 28, 2018 | CTNewsJunkie

As Connecticut struggles with state budget problems, the leaders of community nonprofits say the State can provide necessary and essential services at a lower cost by converting more state human services programs to community-based services.

Defenders of the status quo say such conversions would take advantage of underpaid nonprofit employees.

But they are wrong. The State can find significant savings even as it increases the pay of nonprofit employees.

As background, it’s important to note that community nonprofits pay their employees only as much as their state contracts allow. The CT Community Nonprofit Alliance supports proposals before the General Assembly to raise starting wages to $15 an hour and to increase pay for staff at all levels.

This isn’t a new position. Providers have long lobbied the legislature for the funds to give cost-of-living increases to their dedicated workers. Sadly, the last increase came more than a decade ago. Shifting services into the community will help the State find the money for those increases because even with increases in wages, the operating costs of community providers will remain less than those of the State.

Community providers have lower personnel costs, overall. For instance, they negotiate their own medical and dental insurance coverage each year. They don’t have the long-term debt obligations associated with the State’s union contract provisions for healthcare and retirement. They are better at managing overtime costs.

Community providers are nimbler than their state counterparts at finding cost-efficient ways to support clients. For example, they can provide services in private homes. They bring in third-party revenue through fundraising, donations, and from private payers. They engage in creative public/private partnerships with local corporations and businesses. They are accountable for their expenditures to local boards of directors, which often include the people being served.

Nonprofit providers are part of the fabric of the towns and cities in which they are located. Community-based providers often use local vendors, buy and sell property, and are active in their neighborhoods. Their local presence means they often can get help from local businesses, like banks that grant loans when money is needed the most.

The opportunities for savings are real. The Department of Developmental Services (DDS) is moving forward with the conversion of 10 group homes this fiscal year and another 10 homes next year. The Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMAHS) can convert to community providers 22 residential beds for young adults, 20 detox and 16 geriatric beds that are now at Connecticut Valley Hospital, and 16 mental health beds at Connecticut Regional Mental Health Center, at a savings of almost $15 million. DMHAS submitted these as separate options, stating that each could be done without layoffs, consistent with state workers’ contracts.

Providing services through quality nonprofits means the money that’s saved could also be used to reach more people in need of services. That’s important to Connecticut’s taxpayers, who want to be sure their money is being used in the most efficient manner. It’s also important to the thousands of developmentally disabled people who are languishing on a waiting list for state-funded services.

Doing nothing new or different and supporting the status quo means many of our Connecticut residents are doing without the help they need. Finding long term solutions to our fiscal pressures should mean changing the way we do things. There’s a way Connecticut can pay nonprofit employees more without increasing the overall costs of the programs. So why aren’t we doing more of it?

Read the Op-Ed at CTNewsJunkie