Since late summer, the Delta variant surge matched with Governor Brown’s healthcare worker vaccination mandate and the continued labor shortage have posed challenges in keeping continuity of services, especially in residential programs serving individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities.
Delta Surge Felt in Residential Programs In mid-September, Shangri-La had more positive COVID cases among employees and individuals served and outbreak numbers assigned at one time than it had since the start of the pandemic. The surge left managers scrambling to fill many shifts and program administrators juggling testing and tracking requirements in addition to program oversight.
For example, a positive COVID test, presence of even one COVID symptom, or an exposure to a COVID-positive individual, like a family member, prevents a Shangri-La employee, per guidance from the Oregon Health Authority, from working their shift for the next 3-24 days (about 3 and a half weeks) depending on the situation.
Covering these vacant shifts is challenging for the direct support professional workforce that has been in a crisis for several years, increasingly so with the current labor shortage affecting many industries. One manager recently reported six staffing vacancies at her programs alone. Other managers send 'all staff' emails desperately searching to find direct support professionals to fill shifts, sometimes noting more than 15 open shifts over the course of a few weeks.
Are you a kind heart, bright mind, learner, or leader? Do you want a job where each day is a new adventure? Apply today to join the Shangri-La team. See open positions.
Vaccine Mandate Compliance Adds Work; Results in Employee Resignations During the Delta surge, Governor Brown issued a temporary administrative order (PH 38-2021) which required all healthcare workers, Shangri-La's direct support professionals included, to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 18. The order aimed to protect healthcare workers, their patients, and the statewide hospital capacity.
Ahead of the October 18 deadline, Shangri-La worked tirelessly for several weeks to ensure its nearly 350 employees follow the administrative order. Creation of new policies, collection of vaccine cards, development of testing procedures for exempt employees, and planning for vacated positions is just some of the additional work completed on top of managing COVID outbreaks.
As of October 14, approximately 84% of Shangri-La employees, administrative employees included, had been fully vaccinated or would be by the Oct. 18 deadline. As a reasonable accommodation for the 12% percent of employees that requested a religious or medical exemption, Shangri-La is requiring weekly COVID-19 testing. Shangri-La expects that over a dozen employees will resign rather than vaccinate as of the mandate deadline or will be on a leave of absence while waiting to be considered fully vaccinated. These positions are in addition to the over 20 positions already open.
Shangri-La believes that continuity of services for individuals served is maintained by having a dedicated direct support professional workforce. As such, the organization has implemented several measures to recruit and support frontline workers.
Two wage increases were given to direct support professionals to align their wages with the rapidly changing market.
Began recruiting for open positions as soon as it was clear that an employee would be resigning from employment.
Prepared contingency and consolidation plans that can be enacted as needed.
Supplied meal trains to homes under quarantine to lessen the workload for the supporting direct support professionals.
Hosted an online hiring event through Indeed to reach and engage interested employees quickly.
A large grant provided by the Office of Developmental Disabilities Services also allowed Shangri-La to:
Offer retention, welcome and referral bonuses.
Give away (raffle) items to employees who shared their vaccination plans – critical in allowing program leadership to predict staffing shortages.
Provide $100 to employees who sent their proof of vaccine.
Incentivize employees to take part as social media influencers in sharing recruitment messages.
Share recruitment messages via yard signs, sponsored employment posts, and community advertising opportunities.
Recognize employees with customized tokens of appreciation during Direct Support Professionals Week in September.
Program closures and consolidation already a reality Unfortunately, achieving the staffing levels needed to maintain health and safety for individuals served was unobtainable for residential programs in Florence and Newport resulting in program consolidation and closures. Recruitment in these more rural areas has proved even more challenging than in metro service areas, like Salem.
No employees lost their jobs during these changes to coastal programs and the majority of individuals served were kept in services, although some filling vacancies at new service locations. One individual did exit services and moved in with their family. As of now, Shangri-La does not see an immediate need to close or merge more programs but staffing levels could force these decisions in the future.
How You Can Help
For now, direct support professionals remain focused on delivering services as best as possible and organizational leadership look for short- and long-term solutions which includes asking the community for help in the following ways.
1. Host a Recruitment Yard Sign (like shown at top of post)
Does your home or business have good foot or drive-by traffic? Do you know of a busy community location that would let you post one of these recruitment signs? We are looking for sign hosts in Salem, Keizer, Newport, Florence, Eugene, Corvallis and Albany. If you'd like to host one of these signs, please email email@example.com or call 503-581-1732, x323.
2. Share Recruitment Messages on Social Media
Each Tuesday Shangri-La posts a recruitment message to is social media platforms. Like and share these messages to help them reach the most members of our community.
3. Help with a Meal Train
Option 1: Donate gift cards to one of these food delivery services. Email digital gift card to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Option 2: Be on standby to host a meal train by gathering a group of family or friends, people in your club or church, or your coworkers to provide porch delivered meals to the home each day. Meals can be homemade, store bought or restaurant purchased.
When we need your help, you'll get specific information on dietary needs, the delivery address, number of people, and ideal delivery time. We can't plan for when a home will be quarantined, so we ask that your group be able to activate quickly and start providing meals within 2-days of being notified about a meal train.
If you are interested in learning more or want to join our meal train host list, please email email@example.com or call 503-581-1732, x318.