Staffing is Horizons’ barrier to expansion as it plans to build new home in Hayden

Horizons Health Services bought a parcel of land in Hayden last year and is planning to build a house there this year that would house three residents.
Horizons Health Services/Courtesy

Despite hiring issues that have about 30% of its positions vacant, Horizons Specialized Services is planning to expand its operation this spring by building a new house in Hayden.

Earlier this year, Horizons used about $50,000 in mill levy funds to purchase land on Honeysuckle Drive in Hayden, and the organization is budgeting $600,000 for the construction of a new home on the property that will accommodate three residents.

“I can’t tell you how nice it is to build a home designed for the people we serve rather than buying an older house and then having to retrofit it,” Horizons Executive Director Tatum Heath said.

However, the biggest barrier to this expansion is being able to hire the additional staff. In a meeting with the Routt County Board of Commissioners on Monday, Heath said current vacancies amount to about 9.5 full-time positions in Routt County.

Horizons is a nonprofit dedicated to providing long-term service and support to people with developmental disabilities. The group operates in Moffat, Grand, Rio Blanco and Jackson counties in addition to Routt.

“When we bring someone into our adult program, we’re responsible for them 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for the rest of that person’s life,” Heath said. “When our staff vacancy rate hit 44% (earlier this year), we were terrified and had to take immediate action.”

To help the situation, Heath said Horizons has implemented large cost of living raises for both current and new staff, bringing its starting wage up to $18 per hour.

Across its five-county coverage area in 2021, Horizons served 48 people in the comprehensive program, 31 in the supported-living program, 58 children in the early intervention program and 127 individuals and families in the family support services program.

Of the counties served, Routt is the only one that has a dedicated mill levy — 1 mill that is expected to collect about $1.3 million in 2022. Overall, Horizons’ operating budget is around $6 million per year. Horizons Chief Financial Officer Matt Morrill said having that mill levy has been phenomenal, especially during the pandemic.

“This has provided us so much more flexibility to provide the services that we provide for these folks in Routt County,” Morrill said.

While staffing has been an issue, Horizons has fared better compared to many of its peers, as Heath said several other nonprofits in the state have been forced to keep buildings closed because of a lack of staffing.

He said the lack of local housing options has been a barrier to recruiting new staff and one reason they pushed to increase pay.

Housing can also be difficult for some of Horizons’ clients, as well.

Much of the design work has already been completed on the house, but Heath said they still need to bring it through Hayden’s planning commission. The high cost of materials is partially why the project has been paused for now, but Heath said staffing is also an issue.

The house will have four bedrooms — three for residents and one that would be used by staff who need to be in the home 24 hours per day. Heath said it takes about three people to staff this kind of facility, of which there are five others in Routt County and three more in Moffat County.

“Our biggest limitation is hiring staff. Right now, we don’t have enough people to take care of the folks we currently have, so it is OK to put this on pause until circumstances are more ideal,” Heath said.

However, Heath also said Horizons has fared better through the pandemic than similar nonprofits in the state, seeing only eight COVID-19 cases among clients and staff and no deaths.

“I’ve been continuously impressed with the efforts that Horizons has gone through to protect the people that they serve,” said Michael Turner, 72, the father of one of Horizons’ clients and a former board member. “Horizons gives me huge peace of mind as I get older. I think that the outstanding management and the dedication of the staff — it couldn’t be better.”

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