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Southern New England nonprofits are canceling services due to a lack of workers

Mental health
U.S. Air Force photo by Joshua J. Seybert

Community nonprofits in southern New England are experiencing a worker shortage crisis during the pandemic. Government officials met with community representatives from Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island this week to address the situation.

Massachusetts state Senator Cindy Friedman said the shortage is causing long waiting lists for critical services, including mental health counselling and substance abuse treatment.

“This is a storm that has been brewing for a very long time and it took a pandemic to get all of us to see what the ramifications of not paying attention to the needs of our human service workforce,” she said. “So while it is devastating it is not surprising and that makes it even more unacceptable.”

Heather Gates, CEO of Community Health Resources, one of Connecticut’s largest nonprofit behavioral health providers, said the shortage has forced the cancellation of many of the services her organization provides.

“Decades of underfunding, ignoring the services we deliver, ignoring in many ways the people we serve [collided] with the pandemic and the demands, not only on our workforce, but significant increases in the demand for services at our front door,” she said.

Employers in all three states said nearly 50% of job openings in the service industry go unfilled. They said low pay rates in nonprofit organizations have led to an exodus of employees leaving to work for higher-paid private companies.

John is a former news fellow with WSHU Public Radio.