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Pandemic Causes Looming Crisis For Special Needs Residents Due To Shortage Of Direct Support Professionals

RIVERHEAD, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) - There is a looming crisis in the care of New York's special needs residents.

Some say group homes and day habilitation programs are turning the vulnerable away because there aren't enough workers.

As CBS2's Jennifer McLogan reports, Rob Lembo calls Angel Miles his "loving caregiver" at Rise Life Services in Riverhead, where he lives.

"I really enjoy being here with my friends. I like to draw. I like to do artwork," Rob said.

Rob and his resident friends are some of New York's 1.5 million developmentally and intellectually disabled citizens who depend on direct support professionals - DSPs - like Angel.

"Me, personally, I love it. I love my job. I love what I do. So regardless of pay I would probably still be here helping them," Miles said.

Since the pandemic, the workloads are heavier in these challenging jobs, in danger of burnout, mostly at minimum wage.

"People at Target and McDonald's now make more money than most of our DSPs today. That is the crisis," said Matthew Kuriloff of East End Disability Associates.

Families with loved ones in group homes and day programs gathered with a plea to the new governor to earmark some of the state $900 million in federal funds to retain and lure caring workers.

Susan Hall's son Christopher is special needs.

"Finding this program has been a lifesaver for him, and for us as parents," Hall said.

"The state has to step up and offer competitive salaries, so we are not losing these workers. They have no benefits. The salaries are low, and the turnover is tremendous," said Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio.

"There are 500,000 direct care workers in New York state and you have to do something. It's very difficult for us as non profits to bring in people to stay here," said Charles Evdos, former director of Rise Life Services Family Residences.

Many nonprofit day habilitation programs, which teach independent life skills, are operating at half capacity, with hundreds of vulnerable residents waiting and hoping to return.

Some organizations have seen as much as a 40% drop in the number of direct care employees during the pandemic.

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