Penn-Mar Human Services Launches Major Career Development Initiative for Its Frontline Workforce During National Direct Support Professional Recognition Week Sept. 12 to 16 - Penn-Mar

Penn-Mar Human Services Launches Major Career Development Initiative for Its Frontline Workforce During National Direct Support Professional Recognition Week Sept. 12 to 16

Posted on September 12, 2016

Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) are the eyes and ears of the care system – the frontline staff who provide vitally needed life-long care and support to men and women with disabilities.

During National Direct Support Professional Recognition Week, Sept. 12 to 16, Penn-Mar Human Services is launching its newly developed Direct Support Professional Career Ladder initiative, a DSP Credentialing program that will improve its employee recruitment and retention efforts in order to address the challenges of an increasingly demanding employment environment that is plagued with high turnover.

Penn-Mar, a recognized leader in providing quality supports and services to hundreds of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) in Maryland and Pennsylvania, is partnering with the National Alliance of Direct Support Professionals (NADSP) to inaugurate its major career development initiative with a class of 26 qualified and deserving DSPs.

As a human service provider, Penn-Mar pioneers ground-breaking programs that empower adults with IDD to secure employment, contribute to their communities, build a network of social relationships and create opportunities for life-long learning. The nonprofit has long recognized that having knowledgeable, experienced and skilled DSPs ensures that individuals can achieve these outcomes and live meaningful, productive lives in the community.

DSPs act not only as caregivers, but also as teachers, advocates, companions and friends. Even though direct support demands complex skills, independent thinking, ethical judgment and the ability to create long-term relationships of trust and mutual respect, the work of DSPs has not been recognized as a profession by some policy makers. They are neither viewed as the key lynchpin of a system of community services, nor compensated and otherwise supported on par with the importance of the work they do. Despite the critical role they play, their average wage falls behind that of department store, gas station and fast food workers because of a lack of funding at the federal and state levels.

“We have 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. In short, we’re facing a workforce crisis,” says Gregory T. Miller, Penn-Mar’s president and CEO. It is estimated that 1.6 million new paid DSPs will be needed by 2020 as people with disabilities live longer and the population ages.

Direct Support Professional Career Ladder Initiative

Penn-Mar’s DSP Career Ladder initiative is a vital component of a comprehensive recruitment and retention strategy that involves training, career path and credentialing development and a compensation plan. There is a rigorous standard to be accepted in the program. Performance metrics, along with input from colleagues, individuals and families are taken in to consideration when choosing candidates. Candidates need to apply for each of three levels of advancement and meet certain performance standards to be eligible to move on to the next level of the program. The entire process of certification is lengthy and requires a minimum of 100 hours of course work and practicums. The objective measurement of skill demonstration will be completed by the NADSP.

In addition to training, compensation is a key factor in recruitment and retention of skilled DSPs.  Approximately one-half of all DSPs nationwide are paid wages that qualify for means-tested benefits such as food stamps and other public programs, and many are working two to three jobs to support themselves and their families. Traditional 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.

A compensation plan tied to the credentials and to performance is a critical component of the overall strategy. The bonus for earning the credential is tied to the complexity and effort required to achieve the credential, and bonuses are commensurate with each level to which a DSP advances.

By developing these standards that lead to professional credentialing and commensurate compensation, Penn-Mar is leading the national efforts to provide high-quality training and opportunities for Direct Support Staff that will ultimately reform the discrepancy between their unique skill sets and insufficient wages. To support this initiative that has been embraced by families and supporters, Penn-Mar has set up a fund that upon its announcement at the nonprofit’s annual fundraising gala in March, raised $150,000 to fund the first year.

We are proud to announce the names of the 26 Penn-Mar DSPs from Maryland and Pennsylvania selected to participate in the DSP Career Ladder Initiative: Rita Arnett, Maricel Border, Abby Brenneman, Andrea Carney, Rebecca Driver, Maria Engler, Alfredo Feliciano, Janness Hagerich, Dolores Haney, Lisa Hartley, Vicki Hineline, Lydia Hurst, Kas Jasinski, Jason Lanius, Gretchyn Lathrop, Gail Leasure, Lisa McEwan, Wilson Mosiori, Lilian Ogembo, Nadine Ritmiller, Patrick Sgro, Deb Stackhouse, Stuart Stoltzfus, Colin VanExcel, Kathleen Waughtel, Roni Wood.

For more information about Penn-Mar’s DSP Career Ladder Initiative, contact Penn-Mar’s Chief Development Officer Kathy Rogers, at 410-343-1069 x227, or by e-mail at

About Penn-Mar Human Services

Penn-Mar Human Services, founded in 1981, serves more than 400 adults with intellectual disabilities through its residential, respite, educational, vocational and supported employment programs in northern Baltimore, Carroll and Harford Counties in Maryland, and in southern York County in Pennsylvania. 

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