Service agencies raise concern over work force

A labor shortage in the human service and medical fields was one of the primary issues raised at a stakeholders meeting held in Minot Wednesday by the North Dakota Department of Human Services.

The department holds regional meetings every other year to determine the state’s needs as it prepares a budget request for the next biennium. Department officials took feedback on a variety of issues in Minot, and work force problems were among them.

“We aren’t getting reimbursement to provide quality services. Our staff reimbursement isn’t even within the realm of competitive salaries,” said Marla Kulig, executive director for Rehab Services Inc. in Minot. She said no one is applying for many service agency jobs in Williston “because they can’t make it on what the state is reimbursing.”

Representatives of Rehab Services and other agencies spoke of long waits for services for clients, particularly psychiatric and dental care.

Barb Fix, regional program supervisor for the Minot office of The Village Family Service Center, mentioned a family who had been on her agency’s waiting list for six months.

“It comes down to the hiring challenge because we have not always been up to par with having a full staff,” she said.

Mitch Leupp, administrator at ManorCare Health Services in Minot, said the workforce in nursing homes in northwest North Dakota has changed drastically.

“At last count, we are employing people from 27 different states,” he said. Raises don’t stop these employees from eventually moving back to their home states, and the raises often aren’t enough for local workers to offset the cost of living, he said, noting that ManorCare has lost staff to better paying jobs in other fields.

But the biggest staffing issue is the need to use the more expensive contract agencies to supply adequate numbers of nurses, Leupp said. Money from the state hasn’t been enough to cover those additional costs, he said.

State officials acknowledged the closure of a Parshall nursing home and a Williston assisted living center in recent years due to staffing issues.

The 2013 North Dakota Legislature did approve wage increases and allowed a 3 to 4 percent inflation factor to assist agencies in funding their budgets.

Borgi Beeler, chief executive officer at KALIX in Minot, wanted state officials to know that the funding is appreciated.

“There’s always going to be a place to spend more money and there’s always going to be needs, but I think the state is doing a very excellent job of providing quality services for people who need it,” she said.