NEW YORK (WABC) -- Those who operate group homes and home health care agencies across New York are sounding the alarm that they don't have enough workers to care for their clients and it's putting people's lives in jeopardy.
"We really thought the pandemic was the worst of it, but this is becoming the worst of it right now," said Dana Arnone, the owner of Reliance Home Senior Services, based in Massapequa.
Arnone said she lost about 200 home health care aides during the pandemic and can't find people to replace them, primarily she said because the minimum wage she's offering pales in comparison to what people can receive through unemployment.
"If they were being paid a living wage, they would be choosing to return to work," she said.
Arnone said she and her staff have been working around the clock, mostly doing damage control, telling families they can't find aides to take care of their loved ones, especially on the weekends.
"Families are getting frustrated," she said.
Arnone said she still has workers who are going out on unemployment. She said the ones that are left end up working a lot of overtime, but overtime is not reimbursable through Medicaid.
At East End Disability Associates, they are so short-staffed they can't open a brand new group home in Wading River.
Six men with disabilities were supposed to move into the home months ago, but East End can't find the 15 direct support professionals needed to work there.
"I feel heartbroken for the families that are waiting for their children and their loved ones to move in here," said Lisa Meyer Fertal, the group's Chief Operating Officer. "They've waited a long time."
Nick Monti's son, for example, was supposed to move into the home.
"This is the next part of his life," Monti, of Remsenburg, said.
Monti helped design the home and donated construction materials. Another family donated a large pool and patio for the back yard.
Monti has furniture set up in his son's bedroom, but hasn't gotten a mattress or decorated the room.
"I don't want to get his hopes up that he sees the stuff coming in and he can't come in," Monti said.
Meyer Fertal said East End Disability Associates has lost 40 percent of its workforce throughout the pandemic.
"We have people in executive positions doing van runs," she said.
Meyer Fertal said they are offering $500 sign on, or "commitment" bonuses, and $500 referral bonuses, as well as offering over minimum wage, even though Medicaid does not reimburse them for the extra expense.
"We're doing all sorts of things," she said. "It's still not really making a big difference."
Michael Balboni, the Executive Director of the Greater New York Health Care Facilities Association, said the pandemic has exacerbated the issues that already plagued all levels of health care facilities - low pay, low staffing and lack of benefits or perks.
"The pandemic has only made it much, much worse," Balboni said. "Right now, we're in a crisis stage."
Monti took aim at New York State saying they have to provide more funding to group homes, so they can offer more competitive pay to their workers.
"You got a person standing at McDonald's taking care of hamburger and French fries making more money than people that are taking care of people who need the help," he said.
Last month, Arnone testified in front of the New York State Senate about the need for the state to provide funds so they can offer higher wages.
"How can you have a worker that's minimum wage caring for another human being?" Arnone said.
Arnone said she's even started collaborating with competing agencies, sharing workers.
"We're all trying to think up, how we can we get through this?" she said. "How are we going to survive?"
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