I wish I could provide clear timeframes when all of our Penn-Mar supports will be reinitiated but unfortunately, we still need to adhere to mandated government and health department COVID restrictions.
All of us are anxious for the “all clear” signal that will have us up-and-running again and we will be keeping our families and supporters apprised as official reopening dates are confirmed.
Complicating the matter is the number of staff vacancies we have. We currently envision a rolling reopening when the state COVID numbers decline and when we are able to secure proper staffing levels to support our programs and people.
Staffing is our biggest challenge at the moment and there are a number of reasons for it.
Many people are still scared to return to work or they have family issues that prohibit them from doing so. Some are delaying their return, using stimulus checks and unemployment compensation to meet their financial needs for the short term.
Regardless, we cannot get where we need to go without securing more team members. Recruitment and retention has been prioritized as our top strategic initiative.
Over the years I have used this blog to bring awareness to the DSP workforce crisis and its impact on our services. In addition, the move toward more community vs. facility based supports, with its labor intensive demands, has increased our need for more team members.
But even in our most challenging times, we always hired more team members than we lost. Unfortunately, that trend is now reversed and the applicant flow is trickling to dangerous levels. This is being experienced nationwide in many different businesses, so it is not a Penn-Mar phenomenon but it does present unprecedented challenges.
We recognize that wages are not the only important issue in this dynamic but they are certainly a key one. DSP compensation has to be at a certain level so that team members can feed their families. Loving what they do is not always enough to enable them to stay in the job.
But I’m happy to report that help is on the way.
A few weeks ago during our strategic planning session, one of the recommendations put forward to the Board proposed a complete overhaul of our DSP compensation program.
I am pleased to report that the recommendation has been approved and all of our DSP team members will be affected positively one way or another.
We are increasing starting hourly wages from $13 to $15.50 effective May 22nd. We are also addressing wage compression for team members who already work with us, increasing their hourly compensation. This is an unprecedented 2 million dollar investment in our workforce.
By prioritizing the value of our workforce, this investment, combined with efficient management of our internal resources and transformational leadership, will make it possible to address one of the biggest stumbling blocks to DSP recruitment and retention.
So there are many reasons to remain hopeful. Every day more people are getting vaccinated and fewer people are contracting the virus.
And while specifics regarding the path forward for our Day, Community, and Employment programs remain murky, what is not in doubt is our commitment to support people with disabilities in the best possible way.
We are committed to getting it right, not just fast. And while that may take us longer than we all hoped, we’re moving aggressively to increase DSP wages in anticipation of business as usual when we can expect to have the best professional workforce in place to help us carry out our important and essential mission.