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Illinois Caregiver System Hangs By Thread, Provider Warns

(CBS) – They're some of society's most vulnerable people: adults with severe cognitive and physical disabilities.

Advocates say there's a critical shortage of caregivers for them.

CBS 2's Dana Kozlov says the state can help, but the clock is ticking.

Setting the table is one of Glenda Rudd's tasks at her group home. The 54-year-old has lived there for three years. Her sister says she's happy.

Cynthia Rudd-Knighten says she also feels good about the living arrangement, which is due in part to caregivers like Stephanie Grooms. The caregiver makes sure all of the developmentally disabled woman's needs are met -- along with those of her fellow residents.

But Grooms only makes $12 an hour, often working 55 hours a week, in what can be a challenging job.

Mark McHugh, CEO of not-for-profit Envision Unlimited, says a raise is impossible because Illinois' Medicaid reimbursement -- which funds wages and operations -- has been flat for a decade.

"It's an untenable situation. You can't safely and effectively run a program in a high-quality way," he says.

Low wages plus demanding work equals high turnover, dozens of unfilled caregiver positions and thousands of dollars in overtime, McHugh says.

He and others in the field say a bill now before lawmakers would require the state to increase Medicaid reimbursement so that caregivers could make $15 an hour. It passed the Senate and was before the House.

If the measure goes no further, "We'll continue to see the crumbling of the system across Illinois," McHugh predicts.

A House spokesperson believes the bill could be called for a vote Wednesday. A spokesperson for the governor says he wants to find a way to increase wages for caregivers, but through a balanced budget.

The Illinois legislative session ends tomorrow at midnight.

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