Penn-Mar Human Services Launches Its Third Career Ladder Class, Promoting Recognition and Higher Wages for Direct Support Professionals - Penn-Mar

Penn-Mar Human Services Launches Its Third Career Ladder Class, Promoting Recognition and Higher Wages for Direct Support Professionals

Posted on October 24, 2018

Penn-Mar Human Services is thrilled to announce the launch of a third Career Ladder class, and the names of the 30 Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) whose compassion, professionalism, and participation in this program exemplify their commitment to transforming life into living for the individuals that Penn-Mar supports.

Please join Penn-Mar in congratulating: Yolanda Bartee, Elizabeth Bowman, Dorian Cephas, Crystal Cortez, Rosanna DiSebastiano, Lydia Enoh, Shari Gent, Mary Gorrell, Andrea Hilbert, Elizabeth Holmberg, Michele Hunt-Potter, Denise Keiderling, Gail Matthews, Brianne McDonough, Dawn Mitzel, Elizabeth Morganti, Tiana Morrill, Audrey Newman-Rayner, Alaba Owolabi, Joyce Reigle, Kim Ross, Melynda Russel, Sade Schofield, Abbie Sealover, Lindsay Shafer, Katie Shaw, Kayla Shultz, Folashade Small, Vickie Walters, and Alexa Wheeler.

About Career Ladders

In January 2017, Penn-Mar received a generous gift of $1.5 million from Kay and Jim Pitts, of Naples, Florida, to establish The Michael James Pitts Endowment for the Advancement of Direct Support Professionals. Their gift, named in honor of their son, who has been with Penn-Mar for the last ten years, established an endowment to fund in perpetuity Penn-Mar’s DSP Career Ladder program. Today, the Career Ladder program is supported through their transformational gift, as well as the generosity of many individual donors.

Launched in partnership with the National Alliance of Direct Support Professionals (NADSP), the goal of the program is to recognize the vital work of DSPs, address the challenges within a care system plagued with low wages and high turnover, and improve employee recruitment and retention efforts, ultimately resulting in greater care consistency and quality, and enabling the individuals Penn-Mar supports to live higher-quality lives.

In June 2018, Penn-Mar was recognized with the prestigious national Moving Mountains Award from the partnership of the NADSP, the Institute on Community Integration at the University of Minnesota(ICI), and the American Network of Community Options and Resources (ANCOR), recognizing its leading practices in direct support workforce development.

Better Pay for DSPs is Critical

Despite the critical role that DSPs play, the average wage of a DSP falls behind that of department store, gas station, and fast food workers because of a lack of funding at the federal and state levels. While DSP compensation can vary from state-to-state, the constant is that their income is at 25-50% below a living wage, qualifying them for means-tested benefits such as food stamps and other public programs. Most DSPs struggle from paycheck to paycheck and hold down multiple jobs to support themselves and their families.

Traditional public funding sources do not allow for wages that are commensurate to the demands of the job, and these insufficient wages affect workforce retention and the quality of support provided. Researchers, practitioners, and policy-makers have recommended recruitment, retention, and education strategies to address this critical workforce need, however, they have yet to be sufficiently funded or brought to scale.

“DSPs have often been described as an ‘invisible workforce’ stemming from their work many years ago in public institutions hidden from public view,” said Gregory Miller, Penn-Mar’s president and CEO. “As the care settings transformed from costly institutions into smaller integrated communities, their environment – and that of those they supported – was vastly improved but their daily contributions remained largely unrecognized by all but those with a direct connection to their services.”

Miller added that greater advocacy is slowly creating awareness about the crucial impact dedicated DSPs have on so many lives and the need to professionalize the career to elevate its value and compensation.

DSP Advocacy

Penn-Mar has seen for some time now that the current instability of the DSP workforce threatens the outcomes for people with disabilities, especially while the demand for additional DSPs is growing exponentially. It is estimated that nationally more than one million new direct support positions will need to be filled by 2022.

“We’re taking a lot of steps to move this whole thing forward not just for Penn-Mar but across Maryland and Pennsylvania and the country,” said Laura Tieman, Penn-Mar’s Chief Operations Officer for Maryland. “DSP certification on a national scale would not only help to validate the profession and the amazing work that DSPs do, but it would become a transferable credential, like that of an LPN or CNA.”

For more information about Penn-Mar’s Career Ladder program, contact Penn-Mar’s Chief Advancement Officer Kathy Rogers, at 410-343-1069 x 227, or

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