By Gregory Miller
President/CEO Penn-Mar Human Services
I recently returned from the American Association of Intellectual Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) Conference in St. Louis where I was invited to participate in a work group that was addressing a topic of major concern to all of us here at Penn-Mar: the Direct Support Professional (DSP) workforce crisis.
Our small group of 10 made up the Professional Development strand where we were charged with providing information and agreement on the most pressing issues related to the crisis. How can we in our field advocate for the value of the DSP profession and what are the best practices and national trends we should be looking at?
Our discussions helped us to narrow down where the opportunities are for attracting and retaining DSPs and helped us to prioritize our next steps: what actions can we take immediately and what are those things that are urgent but will require more time to accomplish.
Myself and Penn-Mar DSP Gretchyn Lathrop were joined in the breakout sessions by representatives from the American Network of Community Options and Resources (ANCOR) and the Council on Quality Leadership (CQL); our partner in the DSP Career Ladders program, the National Alliance of Direct Support Professionals (NADSP); and academics from Rutgers University and the University of Georgia. Penn-Mar was the only provider agency included in the group.
It was a great opportunity to learn more about national trends and successes and the perfect platform for sharing the Penn-Mar story and spreading our influence.
Operating as a Think Tank, we were committed to figuring out how we could “bend the curve” and as a country commit to addressing the DSP workforce issue. Additionally, we wanted to explore what the provider’s responsibility is in helping to solve this problem.
Believe me, there were no simple answers: We need 50 different legislatures across 50 states to make allocations for the services we provide. Some years the budgets work in our favor; but other years they do not which results in real internal challenges that need to be managed.
While I didn’t know exactly where the discussions would lead prior to attending the conference, I can tell you that there wasn’t anything I heard in that group setting that Penn-Mar wasn’t already keenly focused on.
It was a true feather in our cap to be invited to have a seat at this prestigious table and validating to know that our reputation for innovation in the IDD world preceded us. What a tremendous networking opportunity to move us outside our geographic network and address a national issue with some of the most important change agents in the field, and that includes Penn-Mar.
One of our strategic objectives here at Penn-Mar is centered on how we share our influence regionally and nationally so this discussion was right in our sweet spot.
We are consumed with our recruitment/retention issues and share this charge to our leadership development staff to prioritize and address. While money is and always will be a factor in addressing this issue, there are other powerful reasons why people stay and leave organizations. Our vision is that all team members at Penn-Mar will be respected, listened to and encouraged as they develop their careers with us.
As we create new and innovative approaches to solving the DSP crisis – our Career Ladders Certification program for DSP development and recognition being a primary example — we feel it is our responsibility to share these best practices with our industry. In doing so, we improve outcomes for all people with disabilities.
AAIDD is now taking responsibility for reviewing ours and the other topic-specific work group reports and creating a White Paper that will identify 3-4 immediate steps that can be taken to address each issue. These findings will likely be published in the spring of 2019 and shared with all relevant parties, including decision makers in Washington DC and the White House.