Like many businesses and entities nationwide, Big Lakes Developmental Center also is experiencing a labor shortage, Lori Feldkamp, the center's president and CEO, said Monday.

Feldkamp gave an update to the Riley County Commission as she presented the 2022 budget allocation proposal for Big Lakes, a center that serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Riley, Geary, Clay and Pottawatomie counties.

Big Lakes officials requested a $221,600 allocation from Riley County, a 2% increase from the previous year, to help provide daily transportation for its clients.

Feldkamp says the issue of staff shortages is something Big Lakes has dealt with for years. The center currently has 41 open full-time positions, which Feldkamp said is “the worst it’s ever been.”

Feldkamp said most of Big Lake’s program and services funding comes from Medicaid, and the state legislature recently passed a 7% reimbursement rate increase in the Medicaid-Home and Community Based Service Waiver for the intellectually and developmentally disabled. That increase is significant, Feldkamp said, but Big Lakes is still playing catch up regarding cost-of-living increases and trying to attract workers after nine years without any kind of rate increase.

“I don’t know what the key is here,” she said, “but I do know that we can’t continue to offer $11 an hour when that’s what they can get at Chick-Fil-A. No offense to Chick-Fil-A ... but the work that they do and the work that our direct support staff do and the responsibilities they have for the health and welfare of the individuals that we serve 24/7 is worth a lot more than $11 an hour.”

Feldkamp said she would propose a $1 wage increase to Big Lake’s board of directors this summer.

“Exactly what we’re going to be able to do, I don’t know, but we have to do something and we have to get a commitment from the state and the federal government for it as well,” she said. “We have to see ongoing increases to keep up with cost-of-living and for our ability to be competitive in the workforce. ... This continues and will continue to be our biggest obstacle to provide services.”

Feldkamp said Big Lakes had closed its admissions for new clients in 2016 because it was unable to find more workers, but it plans to reopen it soon as it has a few recent openings.

Thirty-four people in Riley County are on Big Lakes’ waiting list and 96 total for its entire service area.

A handful of other entities and organizations on Monday requested budget allocations for 2022, including:

  • The Riley County Treasurer’s Office: $905,000 for general operating expenses and personnel costs
  • Flint Hills Veterans Coalition: $1,000 to help cover costs associated with the annual Veterans Day parade and ceremony
  • Manhattan Emergency Shelter: $11,000 for employee salaries and payroll taxes for night and weekend staff, and the volunteer and donations coordinator
  • Riley County Council on Aging: $287,700 for 10 area organizations that provide meal, healthcare and transportation services and education and social opportunities services for older adults.