By Gregory Miller
President/CEO Penn-Mar Human Services
A few weeks ago I had the honor of standing in front of some 500 people at the 2018 Reinventing Quality Conference in Baltimore where I accepted a national award that recognized the groundbreaking work Penn-Mar has been doing in developing a Career Ladders program for our Direct Support Professional workforce.
The prestigious Moving Mountains Award, one of only five awarded over the past two years, cited our best practices for DSP career development, retention and training. The award honors organizations that exemplify excellence in providing opportunities for DSPs to grow their knowledge, skills and values. The end result being greater support, consistency and quality for the individuals providers like Penn-Mar support.
Many of you have contributed to the Career Ladders program and The Michael James Pitts Endowment for the Advancement of Direct Support Professionals through your donations, pledges, or the Black Tie Gala plea. Your generosity allows us to invest in staff and that investment is being recognized across the country and singled out as a best practice for DSP development and recognition.
Joseph M. Macbeth, Executive Director of the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals, lauded Penn-Mar as “highly deserving of this national award.” He cited our two year partnership with the organization and the work samples of our participating DSPs as “objectively demonstrating the highest levels of direct support practice.”
Organizations have been talking about how to properly value the role of the DSP for the past 30 years. Yet now we find ourselves facing a workforce crisis. But no one in the industry has stepped up to the plate to address this issue in the committed way that Penn-Mar has.
Our organization employs a staff of 350 DSPs. Yet in the entire U.S., there are fewer than 300 DSPs who have received training to achieve credentialing (out of a national workforce of two million serving people with I/DD!).
Penn-Mar is poised to significantly raise that number and become the country’s largest employer of certified DSPs. To date, 11 Penn-Mar DSPs have graduated from the Career Ladder program, receiving DSP level one certification, and we also have one individual who has received her level 2 certification. In addition there are currently 48 DSPs enrolled in the credentialing program.
In the past we have used our financial resources for things; today we are using them to better support and educate people. This crisis is not just a money issue, however. It is also an issue of availability of people who do this type of work. The cost of turnover in the direct care profession is monumental. Recent studies peg it at billions of dollars wasted on attracting and retaining this essential workforce.
In order to bend the downward curve, we need to properly value and compensate our DSPs. Our goal is to use as many of our resources as humanly possible and good business practices to engage such a workforce.
This comment from Rita Arnett, Penn-Mar’s very first certified DSP 1 and DSP 2, exemplifies why we are so thankful for your generosity to this important initiative and humbled by your commitment to help us transform life into living for people with disabilities.
“I am grateful and appreciative that Penn-Mar values their DSPs enough to invest in their careers. The people we support are benefiting from the results of the specialized and intense trainings that DSPs in the Career Ladder program must complete. Personally, going thru the program has given my career a sense of empowerment, confidence and excitement.”