by Karen M. Larson, Region 10 Quality Council, The Arc Minnesota
What is a DSP? Direct support professional. Some other titles you may be more familiar with are … nurse, job coach, family care provider, personal assistant, personal care assistant and habilitation specialist.
DSPs assist people with daily living and work activity. Depending on an individual’s needs, some of the duties that DSPs might handle are those of chef, housekeeper, secretary, beautician, laundry worker, banker, chauffeur, personal shopper, first aid administrator, medication administrator, physical therapist, occupational therapist, music therapist, art therapist, dietitian and job coach.
Shea Erickson has been a DSP since 1997 and has loved every minute of it. She was inspired by her Aunt Nancy and her mother to become a care provider. Shea has been working with Andrew for 12 years. Shea starts her day off at 7 a.m. The first thing she does is check in with the overnight crew to gather information such as: sleep hours, pain level, seizure activity and any snacks given. If Andrew is sleeping, Shea sets up for her day.
If Andrew is awake, Shea checks with him to see what he would like to do first. Shea learned hands-on how to read Andrew’s communications and facial expression quickly. Usually Andrew’s day starts off with bathing, dressing, breakfast and medications. Andrew lets Shea know what he would like to do for the day, whether it is watching his favorite movie, listening to country or rock and roll music, hanging out and talking, catching up on life events, checking the newspaper and chatting about what is going on in the world, or going for a walk or van ride. Shea reports the best part of her job is Andrew’s smiles and giggles.
”I know that I am doing my job right when I hear Andrew giggle and he shows me his awesome smile,” Shea said.
To be a good DSP, you have to be here to love and show compassion. Far too often, DSPs leave because they think it is going to be “easy money”, but it’s far from easy. When asking Andrew about Shea he puts a big smile on his face and nods “yes” to the idea that Andrew and Shea are partners, they work together and respect each other. The facts are that Andrew could not get out of bed, get dressed or eat without Shea. Shea is Andrew’s lifeline. Shea is a hardworking, caring, professional and gives everything she has to do her job so Andrew smiles and giggles every day.
Shea has told us repeatedly that she loves every minute of her job working with Andrew and would not change a thing. However, after some lengthy discussion and thinking it through Shea would like a raise. Shea has not gotten a raise since 2007. Shea also said that many DSPs have to work two or three jobs just to be able to pay rent and put food on the table.
We are in a DSP crisis. The University of Minnesota Institute on Community Integration Impact magazine article indicates that the situation is greater than that.
The article stated, “The reality is that significant challenges remain in finding, keeping and training DSPs who support persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities and these challenges – often labeled a ‘crisis’ – have plagued this industry since the inception of community services. A 30 year crisis is not a crisis; it is a systematic and pervasive failure in the long-term services and supports system in the United States that has created a public health crisis. This failure is rooted in the tacit acceptance that, although not ideal, intense competition for public funding seems to translate to a relatively low-wage workforce and “adequate” services for people with disabilities. That acceptance must be challenged and labeled as what it is: a fundamental lack of respect for people with disabilities and the staff who choose careers in providing support to them.”
The article indicated that one of the contributing factors to DSP shortage is high turnover. The Minnesota state average turnover rate for DSPs in 2018 was 46 percent. One cause is low wages. The national average wage for DSPs is $11.76 hour (NCL, 2018).
How do we fight the shortage? Please spread the word: Direct support professionals are valuable, professional, hardworking, caring individuals. They love their jobs. Direct support professionals deserve recognition for the career path that they have chosen to support persons with disabilities to reach their personal goals. Direct support professionals are critical care professionals who necessitate a living wage to provide safe, person-centered, and quality care to the people they serve.
Karen M. Larson is the Region 10 Regional Quality Council Program Coordinator, and is an employee of the Arc Minnesota Southeast Region in Rochester. The state’s quality councils are funded by the Minnesota Legislature, with disability-focused nonprofits as fiscal agents. A new request for proposals for the councils is being sent out soon, so how region 10 operates could change in the future.
The Region 10 Quality Council is a group consisting of 22 members that include individuals with disabilities, family members, service providers, county representatives, advocates, and community members. The overall purpose of the Region 10 Quality Council is to develop a continuous quality improvement system so that individuals with disabilities have the services and supports they need, when and where they need them, so they can live the life they choose in their community. This involves focus on quality at both the individual, regional and statewide levels. The council serves Olmsted, Wabasha and Houston counties.