Direct Support Professional

Sarah Larkin is pictured here with a client she helps support as a direct support professional.

By Karen Larson

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 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,  teacher and job coach. 

Sarah Larkin has been working as a Direct Support Professional 15 years and has loved every minute of it. 

Sarah tells us that being a DSP, she does a little bit of everything such as working with people, checking in with them, and assisting them with what they need. Sarah works the evening shift. Sarah says she starts her shift before she enters the group home by taking a big deep breathe, dropping her baggage at the door and centering herself. 

She goes into the house with a positive peppy attitude. Sarah then greets everyone with a big, full of life, boisterous “Hello.” Then she checks in with everyone individually in the house to see what kind of day everyone has had. 

Sarah then gets a report from her co-worker and plans her evening. There are chores to do, meal prep, dinner and clean up. After dinner she plays cards or board games with the people she works for. 

Followed by showers, medications and bedtime. Sarah tells us that the best part of her day is mealtime where they sit down together and enjoy a meal. 

During that meal, everyone tells Sarah about their day, they talk about what is important to them, and what they want for their future. Some of Sarah’s favorite things is the variety of things she gets to do as a DSP including: swimming, fishing, movie marathons, picnics and family gatherings (both theirs and mine).

Sarah has told us repeatedly that she loves every minute of her job and would not change a thing. However, there are some things that she wants everyone to know:  Fifty percent of Direct Support Professionals have to have a second job to make ends meet; there are not enough Direct Support Professionals to fill all the open hours and DSPs often end up working up to sixty hours a week; and the company she works for has had to close group homes because there are not enough DSPs to fill the hours. When a home has been closed, the people living there have had to move to another home or sometimes even to a new community.

Sarah wishes community members would give people with disabilities a chance. She wishes community members would treat the folks she works for, how they would want to be treated. 

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.

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