Last week, throughout the country, service providers and families celebrated National Direct Support Provider Recognition week.

My column last Sunday focused on direct support professionals and the contribution they play to service providers and families. This week, I wanted to again focus on DSPs, but through another lens, which is the ongoing shortage of this workforce not only in Utah but throughout the country.

In February, M & L Special Needs Planning, LLC wrote a blog “Support Services Staff Shortage: A Discussion.” In this piece, they discussed the current state of affairs with respect to finding and retaining DSPs.

“Simply stated, the support services staff shortage in disability communities refers to the high turnover rates and lack of employees willing to work in the support services industry…” They included as contributing factors “…low wages and non-competitive aspects including no chance for advancement or performance based incentives that results in high turnover and fewer numbers of individuals entering the workforce.”

The American Network of Community Options and Resources expressed similar concerns in their 2017 report “Addressing the Disability Services Workforce Crisis of the 21st Century.” Similar to my column last week, ANCOR refers to DSPs as “the backbone of publicly funded long-term supports and services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities such as autism, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome.”

In their report summary they refer to the shortage of DSP’s as “a national public health crisis” because “these professionals are integral to helping individuals with disabilities live successfully in the community, avoid more costly institutional care, and enable states to comply with the integration mandate of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)”. I would also add that these shortages will also complicate compliance with federal and state mandated Home and Community Based Settings rules.

ANCOR cites similar factors attributed to the nationwide shortage of DSPs as M & L: “Current Medicaid provider rates perpetuate poverty level wage.” This makes it difficult for providers since they do not set these wages. One of the factors that contribute to turnover in our area is that many of the DSPs in our local workforce are students working their way through college. For them, this work is attractive because the schedules are flexible and can be adapted to class schedules but when they have completed their study, the majority of them will leave these jobs.

Another cause noted by ANCOR for the shortage of DSPs is “low public awareness and recognition for the DSP occupation challenges recruitment strategies.” This is not a surprise to me because regardless of the large number of DSPs in our state and local workforce, it is still surprising to me how many people are not aware that they exist or what they do.

Although I cannot singlehandedly change the wage and advancement issues that prevail over this industry, I hope that I can increase local awareness of not only the position itself but the many non-monetary benefits that come from being a DSP and the huge impact on families and caregivers when DSPs leave the field to pursuit other jobs.

As we conclude the DSP recognition week nationwide, I would once again like to thank all of the DSPs in our community for the work that they do to ensure and contribute to community inclusion and the enhanced quality of life that results from the supports they provide.

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