What is a DSP? Direct support professional. Some other titles you may be more familiar with include 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 include 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.

Lori Rand has been a DSP since 2011 and has loved every minute of it. As an overnight sleep staff member, Lori’s responsibilities include: meeting the needs of the people she works for, assisting with personal needs, giving medications, responding to weather or medical needs, light housekeeping and meal preparation. After everyone is ready for the day, Lori participates in various activities with the people she works for such as playing card games, going for walks, tie dyeing shirts and socks, or taking a drive in the neighborhood. COVID-19 has limited some of the activities that can be done in the community, but walking in the sunshine continues. Lori reported that her favorite part of the job is the people.

“I find something they like to do, they have fun, and smile. Knowing that I brought some enjoyment to their day is the best," she said.

Lori said she listens to the folks she serves tell her what they like to do and then do it. You have to be creative and patient when working as a direct support professional. One of the things that is challenging is when someone is having a bad day. On those days, it takes knowledge, patience and understanding to acknowledge the source of the person’s feelings and to sit down with the person, talk it through and come up with a resolution. Lori also says that she works with a great team of guardians, parents, providers and county case managers who work well together.

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Lori has told us repeatedly that she loves every minute of her job and would not change a thing. However, after some lengthy discussion and thinking it through, Lori said that she thinks the staff shortage causes stress and long hours. She wishes that there were more people working as direct support professionals.

We are in a DSP crisis. The University of Minnesota Institute on Community Integration's "Impact" magazine states, “… the reality is that significant challenges remain in finding, keeping and training DSPs who support people 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 in 2018 was $11.76 hour.

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 necessitate a living wage to provide safe, person-centered, and quality care to the people they serve.

Karen M. Larson is the program coordinator of Region 10 Regional Quality Council, the Arc Minnesota Southeast Region.