LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Department of Human Services has worked with state officials and legislators to developed a proposed restructuring of the pay scale and minimum requirements for direct care workers at its five Human Development Centers for the first time in 40 years.

The changes, announced simultaneously at the Booneville Human Development Center and the other four HDCs last week, would result in increased pay and professional certifications that match what is expected at private sector facilities, according to DHS Division of Developmental Disabilities Services Director Melissa Stone.

“Today we are taking a big step forward with a proposal that will make the HDCs a more attractive and competitive place to work, reduce our turnover, and provide our clients with the stability in their caregivers that they deserve,” Stone said. “Families have made it clear that they want the choice of both home- and community-based care and care at HDCs, but we have struggled with attracting and keeping qualified caregivers at the centers. We hope these changes will go a long way to fix that.”

The proposed changes include:

• Raising direct care staff minimum requirements to meet industry standards, resulting in increased pay, certification for workers, and a career ladder for employees.

All direct care employees would be required to become a certified nursing assistant (CNA) by December 2020.

DDS will offer free training to all current employees and will pay for any testing and certification fees. Direct care employees will be required to take a CNA training program put on by DHS and pass a certification test.

Employees who earn the certification will be guaranteed a GS03 direct care position. They also can apply for new GS05 and GS06 supervisor positions that will be assigned to specific housing units or dorms.

• Restructuring direct care positions

Under the proposal the previous five-tier pay grade plan for direct care staff (GS01-05) would be upgraded and folded into three tiers (GS03, 05, and 06), which should attract stronger supervisory applicants. Direct care base pay will go from $22,000 to $26,000 per year. The base pay for supervisors would go from $26,000 to $32,405.

• Working with the Office of Personnel Management to modernize the pay grid for Licensed Practical Nurses. Though the grid has not been finalized, DHS and the State hope to provide more information soon.

Additionally, the base pay for non-direct care staff making minimum wage — maintenance, laundry, food prep technicians, etc. — will increase to $11 an hour as part of the statewide minimum wage increase that goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2021. These employees also will be offered an opportunity to enroll in CNA training at no charge to the employee.

The cost of the changes will be offset by cost savings that are the result of efficiency efforts by the division.