Frontline Initiative: DSPs Responding to Crisis
Providing Support During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Direct Support Professionals 6-month Follow-up Survey — National Version
Direct support professionals (DSPs) provide many types of critical supports. This makes it possible for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) to live, work, and thrive in their communities. The COVID-19 pandemic impacts this work. The purpose of this survey was to understand how the pandemic has impacted DSPs’ work. The results will help people make decisions about preparing for future waves of the pandemic. This survey was initially completed in April-May 2020 by 9,741 DSPs from all 50 states. A six-month follow-up was conducted in November-December 2020 by 8,846 DSPs. You can read the full reports of both surveys, which are available here . This article is a summary of key findings and recommendations for supports and policy changes for the direct support workforce from the six-month follow-up survey.
DSPs need to be identified as essential workers in comprehensive, organized, and funded response plans. This needs to be addressed at national and state levels for additional waves of COVID-19 and future pandemics.
Wages for DSPs need to be increased like other healthcare and essential workers during national crises and future pandemics. State-level and national policies should clearly include DSPs. This is needed to keep DSPs in their jobs. Essential worker status and higher pay may give DSPs the childcare and financial support they need to remain in their jobs. Some DSPs left work to care for children or other family members. Many DSPs are single mothers (Hewitt et al., 2019; PHI, 2019). Access to childcare ensures that DSPs can keep coming to work.
Access to career ladders that lead to increased skills and pay.
Seventy percent of DSPs said they were primary wage earners in their household, earning an average of $13.92 per hour. Over half of the participants had household incomes low enough to qualify for federal and state relief programs such as energy assistance, food insecurity programs, and housing assistance. This workforce needs access to career ladders and credentialing programs that result in increased wages and access to affordable benefits. Credentialing programs provide opportunities for DSPs to increase their skills. This results in providing higher-quality supports. It provides a framework for pay increases.
DSPs need paid time off if they display signs of COVID-19.
Many DSPs cannot afford to take time off. COVID-19 can spread rapidly and severely harm many people. A coordinated response plan to screen workers is needed. People should be able to stay home if they display symptoms to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
DSPs need systems-level pipelines and incentives to enter this workforce.
Vacancy and turnover rates have been high in this industry for decades. Rates are even higher now because of the pandemic. During the pandemic, DSPs lost their jobs due to layoffs or furloughs and others left the field for personal or safety reasons. This will most likely have long-term effects on the workforce. Creating pipelines through educational and workforce development programs will be needed. This can help provide enough workers to fill vacancies in the IDD support sector.
Increased training on health and safety for DSPs.
Only half of DSPs said that new hires during the COVID-19 pandemic received typical orientation and preservice training that included safety training on the pandemic. Comprehensive safety training needs to be provided at the start of a public health crisis for all DSPs. New hires need comprehensive orientation and onboarding to enter this line of work. They also need knowledge about practices to manage health and safety related to the prevention of COVID-19 and to care for those infected by it.
Professional recognition and wage equity for direct support.
DSPs have always provided critical, essential supports. The average wage of $13.92 per hour prior to the pandemic – and only $12.36 nationally (National Core Indicators, 2020) – is not reflective of the skilled nature of direct support work. Moreover, this study showed that Black/African American DSPs made significantly lower hourly wages than other races. These disparities must be explored and resolved. All DSPs need to make a livable wage and have access to affordable healthcare benefits. They should not have to work multiple jobs or excess overtime to be able to live above the poverty line.
Please share your experiences in the next round of the survey
Another round of this survey was launched in June 2021. Please watch for more information and check this link z.umn.edu/dsp-covid19-survey to participate in the next round of the survey. These results are intended to further explore issues that DSPs face related to providing supports.
Gleason, J., Ross, W., Fossi, A., Blonsky, H., Tobias, J., & Stephens, M. (2021). The Devastating impact of Covid-19 on individuals with intellectual disabilities in the United States. Catalyst: Innovations in Care Delivery 2(6). https://catalyst.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/CAT.21.0051
Hewitt, A., Pettingell, S., Kramme, J., Smith, J., Dean, K., Kleist, B., Sanders, M. & Bershadsky, J. (2021). Direct Support Workforce and COVID-19 National Report: Six-Month Follow-Up. Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota. https://publications.ici.umn.edu/community-living/covid19-survey-6-month-followup/main .
Hewitt, A., Pettingell, S., & Kramme, J. (2019). Minnesota direct support worker survey: Final report. Institute on Community Integration. https://ici-s.umn.edu/files/97yqCJKfgd/direct-support-worker-survey_v5ar
Larson, S. A., Eschenbacher, H. J., Taylor, B., Pettingell, S. L., Sowers, M., & Bourne, M. L. (2020). In-home and residential long-term supports and services for persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities: Status and trends through 2017. University of Minnesota, Research and Training Center on Community Living, Institute on Community Integration. https://ici-s.umn.edu/files/aCHyYaFjMi/risp_2017
National Core Indicators. (2020). 2019 National Core Indicators staff stability survey report, HSRI & NASDDDS. https://www.nationalcoreindicators.org/upload/core-indicators/2019StaffStabilitySurveyReport_FINAL_1_6_21.pdf
PHI. (2019). U.S. Home care workers: Key facts. Author. https://phinational.org/resource/u-s-home-care-workers-key-facts-2019/