It’s probably safe to say that the topic I address most frequently in my blogs pertains to issues involving our Direct Support Professionals (DSPs), the dedicated team members who make everything we do here at Penn-Mar possible.
Industry-wide we have a crisis on our hands trying to attract and retain this critical workforce and that is why we at Penn-Mar are leading the charge with tireless advocacy at the highest levels of government to ensure that DSPs receive the compensation and respect they deserve; and by implementing a retention strategy that allows them to pursue a career path through a national credentialing program offering recognition and wage enhancement rewards.
We often use the word “essential” to describe the DSP role which frankly comes across as an understatement. It’s hard to emphasize just how important DSPs are in the lives of the individuals we support.
To many of them, the DSP is the primary person in their life. They form deep relationships with them, welcoming them into their inner circle of trust. They look to them for guidance, help and companionship, each and every day. For people with an intellectual disability, life depends on the competency and stability of the DSP workforce.
So you can imagine how these individuals are impacted on both an emotional and psychological level when the person they can’t imagine living without is suddenly gone from their life, often for reasons they don’t understand.
Without competitive wages and opportunities for professional growth and development, the DSP workforce will never be stable. Far too often DSPs leave their jobs to secure better wages and benefits for their families. But they are leaving more than their jobs behind. They are leaving important relationships that affect the quality of their lives as well.
So the DSP national average turnover rate of 45% is more than just a number. It’s really a severing of critical bonds, repeatedly and forever broken, between DSPs, families, and the individuals they support. In 2018, 20,000 DSPs in the state of Pennsylvania left their jobs. So in essence that means way more than 20,000 relationships were affected.
Every one of us depends on the daily involvement of human interaction. We expect certain people will always be there for us. Now imagine what our lives would be like if our relationships turned over every two years. It would be an experience almost too traumatic to overcome.
Yet this is a grim reality for many people with disabilities. Think of the number of people who transition in-and-out of their lives and how many times they are asked to start new relationships.
This is one of the many reasons why at Penn-Mar we work to build in natural supports for the individuals with disabilities we support — in churches, synagogues, social clubs, schools, workplaces and out in the community – so that they can form a variety of sustainable relationships and are not totally dependent on their DSP, or their lives totally disrupted by their departure.
But DSPs are the ones making the biggest difference in helping to transform the lives of the individuals they support every day at Penn-Mar. It’s our job to continually celebrate and recognize the value of their contributions.