Promoting Health and Wellness for Direct Support Professionals

Promoting Health and Wellness for Direct Support Professionals
Jennifer Hall-Lande, Ph.D., Sandra Pettingell Ph.D., and Lynda Anderson, Ph.D.

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  • Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) play a critical role in the U.S. workforce by providing vital supports to people with disabilities to live healthy and fulfilled lives. (1)
  • DSP workforce consists of 4.5 million workers and is projected to add 1.3 million workers by 2029. (2)
  • A key contributor to quality of life for people with disabilities is the quality of their staff . DSPs report high levels of stress, burnout, and turnover. Our goal is to understand the health of this essential workforce and develop strategies to support them. (1-2)

Survey Distribution

Initial survey

  • March-April 2020
  • 8,914 completed surveys

6-month follow-up survey

  • November 2020-January 2021
  • 8,846 completed surveys

12-month follow-up survey

  • June–July 2021
  • 5,356 completed surveys

Results of Pandemic on DSPs

  • National online survey to measure key variables such as work experience, quality of life, stressors, health behaviors, and coping/resilience skills of DSPs.
  • Descriptive statistics were provided for individual items. Chi-square statistics, t-tests, and ANOVAs were run to look at relationships between variables.
  • Qualitative data was analyzed using NVIVO and multiple coders for reliability.

Results of pandemic on DSPs

Physical and/or emotional burnout




Sleep difficulties


Physical health complications


Suicidal ideation


Other reasons


Pandemic Wellness Challenges

  • Being short staffed
  • Mask wearing
  • COVID restrictions
  • Fear of catching COVID or infecting others
  • Low wages
  • Not being able to take people into community
  • Family issues (childcare, schooling)

Positive Change in Work Life After the Pandemic

  • Better safety measures
  • Better relationships
  • Increased pay
  • Returning to the community
  • Getting vaccinated
  • Nothing

Results and Implications

  • Overall results revealed workforce stress was strongly correlated with self-reported quality of life, resilience, and well-being.
  • A key implication is the need to support DSPs to build resilience and wellness skills.
  • Workplace organizations must promote wellness and self-care to increase DSP wellness and decrease burnout/turnover.

Direct Support Workforce and COVID-19 National Report: Providing Support During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Covers of three reports.
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Podcast, Wellness Matters for Direct Support

Daily demands of being a direct support professional (DSP) often lead to stress and burnout. Join DSPs Mark Olson and Chet Tschetter as they bring you a new podcast series that dives into how DSPs can practice self care. Download and listen wherever you get your podcast. This ICI podcast series is produced by and for DSPs.

Direct Care Resilience

Training series to support mental health and well-being of Direct Care Workers. This project aims to develop agency leadership and direct care professionals who support people with disabilities, by increasing awareness of mental health, self-care, provide resources to sustain and strengthen the DSP workforce, and limit staff turnover.

  • Learn best practices from industry leaders
  • Collaborate and share resources/strategies to support organizational mental health culture
  • Join sessions online via Zoom
  • Earn CEUS and certificates of attendance
  • No cost to participants
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1. US Department of Labor. (2023) The importance of direct support professionals.

2. McCall, S. & Scales, K. (2022). Direct care worker disparities: Key trends and challenges.

3. Pettingell, S., Bershadsky, J., Hewitt, A., Lahti Anderson, L., Hall, S., Smith, J., Sanders, M., Kleist, B., Zhang, A., & Oteman, Q. (2022). Direct support workforce and COVID-19 national survey report: 24-month follow-up. Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota.