Struggling for Care: Massachusetts' Disabled Population Amidst Staff Shortages and the Impact on Disability Benefits

Submitted by Elizabeth on

The COVID-19 pandemic’s long-term effects are still being felt in Massachusetts and elsewhere. Specifically, the pandemic yielded staffing shortages throughout the healthcare industry that have yet to be fully addressed. Although these shortages have the potential to affect anyone, they’ve had a particularly significant impact on the lives of disabled individuals.

The Pandemic's Ripple Effect on Disability Care

The pandemic greatly stressed workforces serving the disabled. In Massachusetts and numerous other states, many workers in these fields left their jobs due to the pandemic. According to a new study from Elsevier Health, approximately 75% of those working in the healthcare profession at the time of the study may leave it by 2025.

This exodus has impacted disabled individuals and their families both throughout Massachusetts and the entire nation. For example, disabled individuals who require nearly 24/7 care may be eligible to participate in “day hab” programs that involve six hours of activities, care, and rehabilitation five days a week.

These services for the disabled help individuals not only survive but potentially forge connections with others. They also help to unburden families who might otherwise be responsible for caring for disabled loved ones every day. Unfortunately, due to staffing issues, accessing this type of support for people with disabilities is more challenging than it has been in the past.

Healthcare accessibility in general is on a decline throughout the nation. As more quit the profession, disabled patients and their families may be hit especially hard.

Massachusetts' Intellectual and Developmental Disability Care

Lack of healthcare availability has resulted in approximately 2,000 disabled people finding themselves on wait lists for day hab programs. However, some note that because these day hab programs technically qualify as Medicaid services for the disabled in Massachusetts, allowing individuals to remain on wait lists for excessively long periods of time may be illegal.

Government involvement could theoretically help. For example, MassHealth recently took emergency action by offering day hab services providers a bonus of $12,000 for every former client they are able to bring back into a program. That said, struggles in Massachusetts are not unique, with many throughout the country coping with both a physician shortage and a shortage of support for disabled patients.

Transportation Issues and Disability Services in MA

In Massachusetts, some disabled individuals use RIDE, an MBTA paratransit service, to schedule rides to locations they can’t reach through other means, such as a subway. Unfortunately, according to reporting from The Boston Globe, this is another service supporting people with disabilities that is facing staffing shortages and related issues in the wake of the pandemic.

Interruptions to this service can have significant implications for disabled people who rely on it. Access to healthcare for people with disabilities is already limited. If an individual can’t use RIDE to reach hospitals or other such facilities, they may struggle to an even greater degree than they already are.

The Impact on Disability Benefits

Many disabled people throughout Massachusetts and the rest of the nation collect monthly disability benefits checks from the federal government. Sadly, those eligible to receive disability benefits in Massachusetts may face even more challenges as a result of the pandemic.

For instance, staffing shortages have resulted in backlogs. Because the process of reviewing and rendering decisions on applications for disability benefits is already complex and lengthy, the SSA has had difficulty reviewing applications in a timely manner. In addition, staffing and logistics issues resulting from the pandemic may cause some to receive their benefits checks late.

Disabled people rely on benefits checks to cover the cost of housing, food, and other such basics. They could face extreme challenges if access to said benefits continues to be negatively affected.

To figure out how much money you could receive in monthly benefits, use our Disability Calculator.

National Healthcare Staffing Crisis

Again, as studies indicate, workers throughout the healthcare profession are fleeing for other opportunities. The stress the COVID-19 pandemic placed on them surely has contributed to this trend.

It’s also worth noting that, even pre-pandemic, finding qualified workers to fill jobs that involve providing support to disabled individuals was often difficult. Although those jobs involve a high degree of responsibility, they don’t always pay well, with home-based disability care providers earning under $11 an hour in some states. Additionally, turnover rates for caregivers were approximately 35% to 40% before the pandemic. Now, they’re greater than 50%.

Accessing health care for disabled adults is therefore no easy feat right now in some parts of the country. Although the worst days of the pandemic may be over, if people continue to leave the healthcare profession, there’s reason to suspect the problem may only worsen in the immediate future.

Advocacy and Solutions

Not all hope is lost for disabled people and their families in MA. Increased government funding and aggressive recruitment campaigns could help programs supporting the disabled “bounce back” from the pandemic. In addition, advocacy groups, such as the American Association of People with Disabilities, are beginning to speak out about the problem to the media. The more people are aware of these challenges, the more they may be willing to help address them.

Community efforts can play a major role in helping address healthcare disparities that have only grown more substantial in the pandemic’s aftermath. When community members identify these issues (by following local disability news alerts, coordinating with advocacy groups, speaking with disabled individuals, etc.), they can work together to implement solutions designed to serve the specific needs of those in their areas.

Disability in Massachusetts: The Importance of Access to Care

While the accessibility of mental health services, rehabilitation, and other such services isn’t always easy to come by for the disabled in Massachusetts, continuing to share their stories is key to ensuring the appropriate parties take action. At the immediate community level, the federal level, and everywhere in between, we must develop and put into action plans that will address critical staffing shortages.

In the meantime, disabled individuals can still seek support in other ways. For example, perhaps you’re applying for disability benefits. Consider taking the Free Case Evaluation on this page to speak with an attorney today if so. A lawyer’s assistance could improve your chances of accessing the benefits for which you may be eligible.