The State of America’s Direct Support Workforce Crisis 2022

The longstanding direct support workforce crisis, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, has led to closures of critically needed services and a denial of access to community-based supports.
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Capitol Correspondence - 03.10.20

U.S. Representative, Direct Support Professional Pen Op-Ed on Workforce Crisis in Disability Supports

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Thank you to U.S. Representative Joe Courtney (D-CT) and Direct Support Professional (DSP) Shanna York, with Oak Hill in Connecticut, for bringing attention to the DSP workforce crisis through an op-ed in The Hill.

As written in the op-ed:

“One of us is an elected representative in a state where thousands of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) rely on and need these critical services. One of us is a professional in the direct support field, with 19 years of experience working day-in and day-out with the I/DD community, and has seen the challenges of a workforce shortage and high turnover firsthand.

Here in Connecticut, turnover in the field of Direct Support Professionals (DSPs)—the pivotal workers who support people with I/DD in daily life and even with taking part in civic duties, like voting—is at a disconcerting 31 percent. We’re doing better than the national average, but still grapple with a turnover rate that would be considered egregious in any other industry.

Now zoom out nationally, where the picture shows an even more dire crisis. States like Nebraska, South Dakota, and Oklahoma are seeing DSP turnover rates well above 50 percent. A whopping 50 percent of DSPs who left their job in 2017 were employed for less than a year, providing scarce time to develop critical relationships with the people they support. And high turnover is accompanied by troubling vacancy rates that average 8.1 percent for full-time positions, and 17.3 percent for part-time positions. Imagine a revolving door of new, often less-experienced service providers—as well as gaps where no one is available at all.

That’s why we need to invest in this workforce through improved training programs to encourage long-term employment and skill development that earns a sustainable wage. This problem is only getting worse. The need for a skilled direct care workforce is expected to grow significantly in the coming years. By 2026, the industry will need almost 50 percent more DSPs than are needed today. And, as we know, the number of DSPs we have today is far from sufficient.”