MISSOULA — Adults with disabilities are starting to feel the impact of the worker shortage in Montana.
Opportunity Resources Inc. (ORI) is a non-profit located in Missoula that provides disability services to over 750 people, but the organization is down about 30 full-time staff so like many places, they’re hiring.
“Late spring is when we really started to see a decline, and it's kind of happened fast now where we're losing a lot more staff than applications are getting in,” ORI CEO Josh Kendrick told MTN News.
Unlike other organizations, ORI did not have to scale back staff during the pandemic, but Kendrick said the recent drop in employees is a crisis for disability services.
“We're in crisis as an organization; providers across the state are in crisis. So we're trying to get that message out and work with the state to find a way to be able to raise wages to be able to retain work force,” Kendrick said.
Exit interviews revealed wages and lack of affordable housing are driving the decline. This month, adjusting the budget helped raise starting wages to $14 an hour at ORI, but long-term fixes need to come from the state.
"We are paid by a rate that the state sets. The Department of Public Health and Human Services set that rate, so we can’t increase that rate to increase our wages either." ORI CEO Josh Kendrick
For now, there are consequences of a minimized staff and adults with disabilities going without services.
“We have calls every day for individuals with disabilities that are looking for a provider such as us, and we're not taking anybody new because we don't have the staff to do it,” Kendrick said.
These drawbacks are felt by those already being served too.
Jonathan Cook -- who works in the Wood Products Division and has been an ORI client for 10 years -- told MTN News he misses the activities he once did on a regular basis.
“When we did have the staff I would go out hiking, biking, folfing, swimming. Anything that was outdoors, I was doing. And it really affects my mental health because, like, I love doing those things, but I can't do those right now because we don't have the staffing,” Cook said.
Not only is Cook now unable to enjoy excursions, but he also can’t even sleep at his house consistently as night shifts go unstaffed. “We don’t even have the night-watch to be in our own homes to sleep."
The changes have been difficult.
“My life goal is to be able to ride my bike by myself, but I can't even do that because we need the staffing to support my being able to ride my bike by myself. It hits home for me because I can't do the stuff that I want to do. Because I need, I need to have staff to help me to do those things." - Jonathan Cook
Cook said he wants people to know that ORI is a great place to work; “Everyone is nice here. That we are very caring and we just need to have staff.”
Opportunity Resources tells us they are working with other service providers statewide to raise awareness of the crisis to top government officials.