I just returned from the NADSP Annual Conference, hosted by the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) in Cleveland. While there was no formal program theme, each presenter, including myself, addressed in different ways how we could advance the value of the DSPs who are so committed to supporting people with disabilities.
The Conference coincided with the celebration of Direct Support Professional Recognition Week and I can’t think of a more deserving group of people to single out for their tireless efforts on behalf of organizations such as Penn-Mar. As I often say, we would literally cease to exist without their skills, compassion and commitment.
My NADSP Conference presentation was entitled, “One Provider’s Credentialing Journey.” I used the session to tell our Penn-Mar story to families, DSPs and Human Resources professionals about how we designed, implemented and evaluated a DSP credentialing program to retain, attract and educate our DSP workforce.
I included the word “journey” in my title because it involved years of strategic work on Penn-Mar’s part related to recruiting and retaining DSPs.
Like many non-profit organizations, we were very successful in raising money for “things” rather than people, all the while desperately attempting to keep “the right people.”
We prided ourselves on our culture of innovation and entrepreneurship and were viewed as an industry leader among our peers.
Yet we still struggled to keep DSPs who were leaving us over compensation issues, and often times, dissatisfaction with their managers.
Following a lot of soul searching and attendance at the MACS-sponsored Maryland Moving Forward Retreat, we concluded that it was imperative that our DSPs were offered and promised specific opportunities for growth; good people to work with and for; meaningful work supported by a strong, innovative organization; and ultimately, rewards and recognition.
That commitment led us to NADSP in early 2016 where we set our sights on offering DSPs the national organization’s groundbreaking Career Ladders career development and credentialing program to help improve their skills and earning potential.
Our 2016 Annual Black Tie Gala raised $100,000 to launch the initiative which enabled us to enroll 26 DSPs in the inaugural program.
In 2017, a generous gift from the Pitts Family was used to fund the Michael J. Pitts Endowment for the Advancement of DSPs, and an additional program-specific $150,000 was raised at that year’s Gala; $295,000 the following year.
Penn-Mar’s commitment to the program and the endorsement and overwhelming generosity of our families, friends, foundations and business partners have made us a leader in advancing the value of the DSPs, both internally and externally.
Currently we have 57 DSPs seeking certification through NADSPs new E-Badge Academy, the platform we utilize for national certification. So far, 18 team members have achieved Level 1 certification; three people are achieving Level 2; and two Penn-Mar DSPs (out of less than 10 people nationally) received the Level 3 Specialist designation. Many other are well on their way.
This investment in our DSPs has reduced our overall turnover, and for those in the program turnover is significantly lower still. Team members have improved “connectivity” with the people they support; enhanced their annual performance reviews; and increased their professional development. In addition, this program helps us to identify future leaders in our midst.
Everything we are doing for DSPs on this very special week in terms of events, financial rewards and recognition is meant to publicly say “thank you” to this dedicated group of professionals. My heartfelt thanks to all our DSP’s who give of themselves every day to make a difference in the lives of those we support.
We are strongly committed to continuing to work in a very intentional way to ensure each and every one of our DSP’s know that our commitment to them is for the life of their careers at Penn-Mar, extending far beyond this week’s activities.