by Dana Gentry, Nevada Current
October 15, 2021
The Governor’s Commission on Behavioral Health is hoping to persuade Gov. Steve Sisolak to increase pay for frontline workers in the state’s mental health system. It’s also exploring options to ensure more money paid to state vendors, such as supported living arrangement agencies contracted to provide services for the disabled, makes its way to workers.
Supportive living arrangements allow individuals diagnosed with an intellectual or developmental disability to live in a community setting while receiving support services provided or coordinated by agencies.
“If we’re going to give a bump to the contracting facility, I want to make sure that it actually goes to the people doing the work,” said Commissioner Dan Ficalora.
Nevada spends tens of millions of dollars a year on contracts with vendors who employ staff to work hands on with mentally, intellectually and developmentally disabled individuals. Staff are sometimes paid a pittance by the employer reaping the benefits of the government contract, which currently has no recourse.
“Have the state agencies who issued those contracts ever considered putting specific contract language in there about the rate of pay for the staff who do the work?” asked Lisa Ruiz Lee, a commission member and former director of Clark County Department of Family Services.
“That is something we’re actively looking at now,” said Jessica Adams, deputy administrator for the state’s Aging and Disability Services Division. Adams said legislative efforts to do so have “never been able to pass so now we are looking at the contract route — is there some way that we can put it into there so that we can make sure that rate raises are getting passed on to the staff.”
“It makes total sense to me. And I think that would be a great support in terms of their ability to hire and retain staff,” said Ruiz Lee. “They (providers) may not necessarily appreciate it because it would likely affect their bottom line, or their profit margin rather, but it would create a guaranteed wage for the staff that do that work.”
The State of Nevada Association of Providers (SNAP) did not respond to requests for comment.
Some advocates contend government vendors undermine so-called “high-road companies” by paying poverty wages and eroding value for taxpayers.
The Center for American Progress argues policy and lawmakers “can help ensure that government dollars uphold local market wages, support high-quality jobs, and deliver value to taxpayers by enacting prevailing wage laws, which require recipients of government funding to provide workers with wages and fringe benefits that are comparable to those paid to other similarly placed workers in the region.”
Nevada has a prevailing wage law that applies to publicly funded construction projects of $100,000 or more.
Prevailing wage laws “forestall a race to the bottom among contractors and ensure a stable, well-qualified workforce that produces high-quality work. Wage standard laws have been shown to support good value for contractors by decreasing turnover and improving performance,” according to the Center for American Progress.
Dr. Lisa Durette, chairperson of the commission, noted the “initial intent of this letter was really focused on our frontline staff. As we discuss all of the issues, the reasons that Nevada is 51st in the nation for children’s mental health and ranked equally low for adult mental health, it starts at the frontline and goes all the way up to the top with the highest level, clinical folks, and the system itself.”
The commission meets again on Oct. 29 to finalize its letter to Sisolak requesting higher pay for workers.
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