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Penn-Mar boosts starting wages for health care workers to $15.50 an hour

Penn-Mar Human Services, a nonprofit serving people with disabilities in Maryland and Pennsylvania, plans to boost starting hourly wages for its front-line workers to $15.50 an hour, a $2.50 per hour raise aimed at attracting and keeping employees.

All “direct support professionals,” including entry-level and those already working at higher wages, will get a wage increase, the organization said Thursday. These employees work one-on-one with clients to help them do things independently.

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Penn-Mar, founded by 12 families in 1981, serves nearly 2,000 adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities each year in Baltimore, Carroll, Harford, Howard, and Frederick counties and in southern York county in Pennsylvania. It offers day programs, employment services, residential services in group homes and support for people living with their families or on their own.

The nonprofit said it hopes to attract more employees to meet growing demand by raising wages.

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“Many professionals have to choose between the work and providing for their families,” Penn-Mar CEO Greg Miller said. “It’s an endemic problem in this field, and one that directly impacts our core mission.”

The average pay for a direct support worker in the U.S. is $10.72 an hour, according to the National Association of Direct Support Professionals, with compensation largely tied to state and federal funding. Turnover rates in the profession are high.

Other area employers have boosted starting wages recently, including Johns Hopkins, Baltimore’s largest private employer, which said last week it will increase the minimum wage at its university and health system to $15 an hour. In January, LifeBridge Health raised the minimum wage for more than 1,100 hospital workers to $15 an hour.

Retailers such as Amazon, Costo, Target and Walmart also have boosted their minimum wages to $15 or more.

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Penn-Mar said it launched a professional development program four years ago to help retain skilled direct support workers and has seen retention rates of 90% for those who participate. The program offers nationally recognized credentialing, training, continued education and certification.

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