Adults living with special needs miss out on opportunities amid labor shortage

A staffing shortage has led some adult day services in Minnesota to cut back on opportunities for adults living with special needs. 

Services for special needs adults are less available in the Minnesota area due to a staffing shortage. 

Local restaurants, stores and other businesses are hiring now that the COVID-19 pandemic is waning in the Minnesota area, but that impact is being felt in the adult special needs industry, too. 

It’s been over a year since Todd Embury has been able to bring his son Garrett to an adult day program at Options in Big Lake, Minnesota. Garrett would typically come to Options to take part in activities with other adults living with special needs or work at a job in the community with the help of an Options staff member. 

Todd says it helps keep Garrett active and engaged. 

Staffing shortages have left Options without the ability to welcome back some of their clients into the program, however. 

"We try to keep him as active as we can, but we can tell his day… there’s a lot more time he’s not stimulated and for Garrett, that’s really important," Todd said. 

Brenda Geldert, the executive director of Options, says the company is doing everything it can to attract and retain staff. Last week, Options started offering full-day services after a slow reopen. It was completely shut down for months last year due to COVID-19. 

"We didn’t get everyone back," said Geldert. "Staff moved on. I think staff was fearful of our ability to continue providing services to stay open."

Now, they’re struggling to re-hire that staff. Normally, they would have 70 clients like Garrett out with a staff member working in the community. Today, they have 25 people due to the staff shortage. 

Options says it is willing to train new employees, but with so many companies looking for workers, they struggle to stay competitive with pay. 

"Trying to increase wages to meet the current labor market isn’t sustainable in this industry when our wages are set by the state," said Geldert. 

The longer Options goes without staff, the longer people like Garrett miss out on opportunities. It’s something his family says they are looking forward to getting back into his life soon. 

The latest numbers from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development show that in May, the unemployment rate was 4 percent. Last year, that number was 11 percent, the highest in 45 years.