By Karen M. Larson
ARC Minnesota Souteast Region
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 do are 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.
Kim Miland has been working as a DSP for a year and has loved every minute of it. Kim works the night shift. She starts her day off checking on the folks she works for, and then she does cleaning duties and paperwork. When the folks she works for start to wake up in the morning, she helps them with whatever they need help with such as dressing and bathing, medications, making and serving breakfast and talking about what the day’s activities are going to be. During the day, Kim takes folks out for coffee, plays games, shopping, and goes for walks and picnics. Kim’s favorite part of her job is listening to the folks she works for tell stories about their past and what they like to do. She will drive them by a house they used to live in and they talk about all the good times and memories. Kim’s second favorite thing about her job is her coworkers. Kim considers her coworkers her support team and they help the workday go smoothly. Kim says that the best DSP is a hard worker, happy, outgoing, loves to help people and is able to get the job done. Kim wants everyone to know that she loves her job and wants to do this job for many years to come.
Kim has told us repeatedly that she loves every minute of her job and would not change a thing. However, there is something that she wants everyone to know: Working as a Direct Support Professional is the lowest paid job she has ever had, and because working as a Direct Support Professional does not pay enough, she has to have several jobs just to pay her bills.
We are in a DSP crisis. The University of Minnesota Institute on Community Integration Impact magazine states; “…the reality is that significant challenges remain in finding, keeping and training DSPs who support persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Often labeled a “crisis” this label has plagued this industry since the start 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.” Impact magazine also reported one of the contributing factors to DSP shortage is high turnover. The Minnesota state average turnover rate for DSPs in 2018 was 46%. 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 and 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 deserve a living wage to provide safe, person-centered, and quality care to the people they serve.