For those of you not familiar with Group Supported Employment (GSE), it is designed to provide services for a group of up to 8 individuals in an integrated (i.e. “normal”) work setting. An example of a GSE work site is a janitorial crew that cleans a state building. This is as opposed to sheltered workshops which are segregated work environments and a practice we ended 10 years ago.
I am taking this opportunity to provide the rationale for now ending our GSE program as well as the sub-minimum wage practice associated with it.
First GSE work sites are not truly integrated. At all the GSE sites we have operated our workers are set apart, as a team, working on the contract. Integration is largely dependent upon the particular company contracting for the service. In many cases the workers with disabilities don’t interact closely with other workers.
Second people working in GSE can and should work in an individual job in the community as opposed to Morningside being the employer of record. A particular level of disability or behavioral issues are not factors that exclude one from working in the community. We have demonstrated this in scores of cases by placing clients in individual jobs who have more severe disabilities than those working in a group environment.
So what constitutes the on-going need for this service? A case could be made that this type of service may have some value as a temporary placement. However, typically clients end up working for many years at a group site for a wide variety of reasons. Included in those reasons is that parents and caregivers like the fact that the service is funded at 4 hours a day 5 days a week and individual employment can be fewer hours per week. So it begs a difficult question: Is this service designed for the individual or for the convenience of the residential providers or parent/relatives?
Those we serve in GSE are often not progressing by gaining skills and looking for new opportunities. Recently a client who moved to a job in the community from a GSE site was very happy with the change so she could “meet new friends” and was very clear she didn’t want to go back under any circumstances. One parent said “Well, it’s about time. My son has been in this training program for years.”
The discussion about the future of this program is increasing in the state. My feeling is that this service category will be eliminated in a few years in a manner similar to the way pre-voc or sheltered workshops were pressed to close a couple of years ago.
Finally, we are also not going to renew our sub-minimum wage certificate. This is a special certificate issued by the US Department of Labor that allows paying less than minimum wage to individuals with disabilities. [I wrote about how this law has been abused as highlighted by a US DOL case against a farm in Iowa a couple of years ago.] The disability community has been advocating the elimination of this sub-minimum wage program and I agree with them! My friend Joelle Brouner, a person with a disability, pointed out to the Morningside Board of Trustees last year that a person who has a disability isn’t given a break on buying goods or services. So why should employers be able to pay less minimum wage? We/I believe that everyone should earn at least the minimum wage regardless of disability status. And most of the persons with significant disabilities working in the community produce at a high rate. As my friend, and co-worker, Don Hayden says “We aren’t given many chances to work so when a company hires us we are loyal and want to do a good job, constantly proving our capability”.
So what’s next for GSE? Those sites/contracts that can be transformed into an Affirmative Business Enterprise (ABE) will continue. [An ABE is designed to make a profit and employ some individuals with a disability.] Those sites/contracts that are not profitable will be closed. We are also pursuing other business ventures that could employ some people with a disability in a job in the community. Current GSE clients will be offered the opportunity to pursue individual employment in a job of their choosing.
One again Morningside is charting territory not yet traveled by others. We are the first organization to move in this direction just as we were when closing the sheltered workshop. But we believe this change is in the best interest of those we serve. Many eyes are on Morningside right now to see how this turns out. I have every confidence the creative, professional Morningside staff will make this a great transition, which will offer more opportunities, for our clients.
CEO Viewpoint is published by Jim Larson, CEO Morningside
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