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DES MOINES, Iowa — It is more than a problem. “I think we are passed crisis. We’ve been in a crisis for a while. This is a disaster,” said Marcy Davis, the CEO of Candeo Iowa.

Managed Medicaid service providers that assist disabled Iowans like Candeo Iowa in Johnston have felt the squeeze of a nationwide worker shortage. Davis said, “We have over 50 positions that we are hiring for right now.” That is a number that represents around 25% of the business’s entire staff.

Davis says the pandemic is exponentially making matters worse. Sixteen employees recently tested positive for COVID-19, along with five of their home sites. “The people working in a COVID positive home can only work in that home. They can’t go cover a shift in other homes,” said Davis.

It has forced Candeo Iowa to cut some services for vulnerable Iowans like Tim Gerzema and his roommate Ben Jones who were living independently. “We have 60 open shifts per week that are being covered by overtime,” Davis said.

Davis says that since their rates are permanently set each year by government funding and the Department of Human Services, they cannot increase wages and are losing employees. Davis said, “Direct competition with local restaurants and retailers like Walmart and Target and Applebee’s.”

Wallace Kariuki is a team lead cap specialist at Candeo, and despite his third child on the way he is sticking it out. “You go home knowing you made a difference,” said Kariuki, speaking about his job working and assisting disabled Iowans and helping them gain independence.

With a lack of staff and the need for more money sixteen hour days have gone from rare to common for Wallace but there’s a catch. “If I work more hours I lose time with my kids and that’s difficult for me. I love to spend time with them,” said Kariuki.

Last year home and community-based services requested a 10% increase in funding from legislators. They received only 3.5%, while cost of living increased 6%. To help close the gap this legislative session, the group hopes for a 6.5% increase.

The organization’s services are designed to go unseen. “We are kind of a hidden service and the intent of that is we want to support John to become independent,” said Davis.

It’s now their turn to be heard. Kariuki said, “Times like this we need the legislature to hear us. We are crying for help.”

The Iowa Association of Community Providers will be making their case for more funding to legislators on Wednesday February 23. You can apply for employment at Candeo Iowa by going to their website at www.CandeoIowa.org/careers