Miki Herman of Northeast Portland is the interim chief executive officer at Portland's Albertina Kerr Centers.

MIKI HERMANThe human services sector is facing a historic workforce shortage of frontline caregivers. The impact of COVID-19 has pushed our statewide system of care past the breaking point. If Oregon doesn't take immediate action, it's poised for failure and collapse.

Insufficient reimbursement rates from the state and private health insurance payers have created an ongoing struggle for human services providers to recruit and retain qualified staff, especially Child and Family Therapists, who deal with children's mental health, and Direct Support Professionals, who provide 24/7 essential care for people experiencing intellectual and developmental disabilities and behavioral health issues.

These highly trained professionals and caregivers perform physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging work. However, the long-term underfunding and lack of investment by Oregon to ensure the stability of care has taken its toll. The job is unsustainable financially for many employees.

The state needs to show it values caregiving with compensation reflective of this challenging work. Lawmakers need to significantly and immediately increase reimbursement rates or provide funding streams, so human services providers can offer equitable, competitive wages that compete with other sectors.

In February, Oregon's Legislature will convene for a special session. It's our hope lawmakers will pass critical legislation to address the need for long-term, ongoing investments in our caregiving workforce.

Without additional state funding, human services providers will have to reduce services and close programs. For those who need round-the-clock residential care, they could end up in a hotel monitored by overwhelmed state workers, a homeless shelter, or worse, in crisis waiting in an overcrowded emergency room or even jail. People who spend their career caring for our most vulnerable citizens deserve our admiration and respect. The need to invest in these workers is greater than ever.

We're counting on our elected officials to do the right thing.

Miki Herman of Northeast Portland is the interim chief executive officer at Portland's Albertina Kerr Centers.

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