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.

Deana Nelson of Red Wing started working as a DSP in 2016 and has loved every minute of it. Deana told us that she works the day shift. She starts her day making breakfast, passing medications, and assisting with morning cares.

One of Deana’s favorite things to do is take the folks she works for out for a drive around the city, grab a quick lunch at a drive-thru, and then do some curbside shopping. The best part of her job is making sure the folks she serves are happy.

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Deana reports that the focus is always on the folks she works for: what do they need, what do they want to do, and where do they want to go?

“The guys deserve everything; that is why I am here, to make sure that they have a great life,” she said. She knows that they are happy and having a great day when they are happy and smiling.

Deana has said repeatedly that she loves every minute of her job and would not change a thing. However, there are a couple of things that she wants everyone to know: Direct support professionals work long hours.

If you are working the morning shift ending at 3 p.m. and the staff who was supposed to relieve you did not show up, you have to stay. Deanna told us that she cannot leave the folks she works for alone and there are times when there is no one to come in.

Deana reports that one of the difficult struggles is that there are supposed to be two DSPs scheduled for each shift. Due to the DSP shortage, there is only one DSP scheduled, which limits what she can do with the folks she works for. For example, if one of the folks wants to go shopping and the other three folks do not, we cannot go shopping because the folks cannot be left alone.

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.

Karen M. Larson is the Region 10 Regional Quality Council program coordinator for Arc Minnesota