During the recession, the budget for social services was significantly cut by the legislature. Since that time, there have been only modest increases. With limited state funding and a possible minimum wage increase, social service providers are bearing the brunt of it. Lee Grogg, CEO of Ryther shares his take on the matter.

Ryther is one of Seattle’s oldest child serving nonprofit organizations. Having evolved from an orphanage to a sophisticated broad spectrum mental health and behavioral health provider, Ryther is unique in its field. Ryther’s services range from hospital alternative residential care to outpatient counseling and community outreach services as well as services to substance abusing youth. Ryther’s highly trained staff includes full time child psychiatrists, psychologists, MSW’s and a range of other Masters qualified clinicians offering a variety of evidence-based practices.

Most of Ryther’s hospital alternative services are provided to children from the State’s foster care system. Typically these children are rated by the Children’s Administration as the most acutely disturbed and complicated cases. Moreover, in recent years the number of facilities able to care for and treat these children outside of a hospital has dwindled dramatically. Consequently Ryther serves a very high concentration of children with very serious and complex behavioral disorders and mental illnesses. This requires a high staff-to-client ratio, as well as highly skilled personnel. In fact, Ryther provides a staff to client ratio of 1:2 in our hospital alternative residential care program to maintain a calm, therapeutic and safe environment.

Since Ryther’s business is very labor intensive, implementing a $15 per hour minimum wage will be a serious challenge to the organization.  Ryther’s line caregiving staff members deserve this rate of pay because of the difficulties and hardships encountered on the job. However, Ryther and other social service providers are still experiencing the effects of state budget cuts from the recession years and there is a large gap between fee verses cost to treat these children successfully. It is relevant to mention that state reimbursements are already lower than private insurers. 

Recently, Ryther has developed and implemented a strategy for the development of diversified and self-sustaining revenue sources to make up the difference and philanthropy helps fill this gap as well. However, in order to afford a $15 per hour minimum wage rate at Ryther while maintaining the kind of treatment and care that has proven to be effective in treating these children to prepare them to live successfully in a family setting, an increase in state funding would be necessary.

Thanks again to Ryther for sharing your side of the story on this important Seattle debate!