United Arc virtual event discusses rebound, funding priorities

  • Fred Warren, acting executive director for The United Arc, speaks during the organization’s annual Coffee & Conversation discussion on Friday. Screenshot

  • The United Arc on Avenue A in Turners Falls. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 4/3/2022 3:30:36 PM
Modified: 4/3/2022 3:29:57 PM

TURNERS FALLS — During its annual Coffee & Conversation event Friday morning, representatives from The United Arc presented an update on the organization’s bounce-back efforts after a turbulent 10 months and discussed funding priorities.

Joined by a large group of legislators, board of directors President Bruce Biagi and senior leadership of The United Arc talked their new mantra of “we are resilient,” which comes after weathering the loss of two state contracts when a report detailed the shortcomings of The United Arc’s care of clients and a lack of oversight in its internal affairs. The order to surrender its Residential and Shared-Living contracts came after the Department of Developmental Services’ July 8 Office of Quality Enhancement report, which found the organization met only 51% percent of licensure indicators.

“Of course, we were in the middle COVID … but the defining event of last year was the review by the Office of Quality Enhancement,” Biagi said, calling it a “shockingly poor performance.” “I found myself as front page news in a way that I’d never imagined.”

The United Arc, founded in 1951 by Rita Marguerite Canedy and incorporated in 1960, serves clients in Franklin, Hampshire, Hampden and Worcester counties through its offices in Greenfield, Turners Falls, Holyoke and Athol.

Following the loss of those two contracts, The United Arc was placed on a temporary license for its Individual Home Supports Program, which will undergo a permanent license evaluation in September.

“We will continue to work on the corrective action plan,” Biagi said, as The United Arc looks to “further stabilize.”

“There is legitimate optimism for a stronger and better United Arc in our future,” he continued. “We are strong, we have connections, we are resilient.”

Other United Arc employees discussed the revitalization of its advocacy clubs, which encourage and support the individuals served by The Arc to make their own decisions and develop social skills.

Ellen Taverna, director of public policy with The Arc of Massachusetts, joined the conversation to discuss and advocate budget priorities for the upcoming fiscal year. The Arc of Massachusetts is the parent chapter of the Turners Falls-based United Arc.

Taverna said The Arc of Massachusetts will be advocating for an additional $350 million in service organizations’ funding on top of the $250 million already designated in Gov. Charlie Baker’s budget as a way to combat the “workforce crisis” that was exacerbated to “epic proportions” by the pandemic. If approved, The Arc of Massachusetts would use the additional funding to set a higher salary benchmark at $20 per hour, rather than the current benchmark of $16.79.

“It’s necessary to stabilize our workforce and getting us back on track to serving our entire population,” Taverna explained. She added that additional help needs to come from the federal government, and said that one-time funding streams like the American Rescue Plan Act need to be more than just temporary boosts. “What we need to see is a real, permanent solution coming from both the state and federal government.”

Taverna also advocated for increased flexibility in the line items of the FY23 budget so funding can be adapted if necessary, and to allow the payment of “responsible parties” like parents or guardians, who were not compensated while caring for people with disabilities while at home during the initial lockdowns.

State Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, who is running for lieutenant governor, supported the proposals, saying many people who were “putting their lives at risk” while working during the pandemic were not compensated properly. Like Taverna, he added that one-time funding sources like the American Rescue Plan Act are helpful, but the government needs to be “committing to sustaining this moving forward.”

“It’s clear, we need to do more,” Hinds said. “My concern is making sure we keep our foot on the gas moving forward.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.

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