Employment and Community First CHOICES Workforce QuILTSS Initiative Survey 2020: Year Three Report

2020 Direct Support Workforce State Overview

Organization Characteristics

In the state of Tennessee, 17% of services are provided in the West region, 48% in the Middle region, and 35% in the East region. Services are provided in 3,451 service sites in 58 organizations, including 59% family or individual homes, 20% agency or facility sites, 17% job sites, and 4% other sites. 7,267 people received services. 7,333 DSPs, 629 FLSs, 344 managers, 716 administrative, and 1,267 other employees than those previously listed were employed.

DSP Employment

Of the 50 organizations who responded to employment types of DSPs, 4% were on call or temporary employees, 30% were part-time, and 66% were full-time. 62% of DSPs worked across more than one service type. Service types may include ECF CHOICES, DIDD Waiver, Vocational Rehabilitation, and CHOICES (Non-ECF CHOICES).

DSP Vacancy

The overall vacancy rate for DSPs in 56 organizations was 19%. 36% of part-time positions and 21% of full-time positions were vacant.

DSP Turnover

Overall, there was 63% annual DSP turnover in 55 organizations reporting. Of those DSPs who left their positions in 2020, 47% left within 0-6 months of hire, and 22% left within 6-12 months of hire. The top three reasons for DSP departure were as follows: 72% “found another job at another company,” 70% “no call/no show,” and 58% “pay too low, needed better pay.”

DSP Wages

61 organizations reported DSP wage data. The average hourly starting DSP wage was $10.36, the average hourly DSP wage was $11.09, and the average highest DSP wage was $13.20. 18% of organizations paid DSPs different wages across service types.

DSP Benefits

On average, 35% of DSPs in an organization were enrolled in health care plans. For full-time DSPs, 66% of organizations offered paid time off, 31% offered sick leave, 27% offered paid vacation, and 83% offered health insurance. For part-time DSPs, 4% of organizations offered paid time off, 6% offered sick leave, 0% offered paid vacation, and 17% offered health insurance. Organizations that were unable to distinguish between part- and full-time DSPs answered for “all DSPs.” For all DSPs, 40% of organizations offered paid time off, 22% offered sick leave, 33% offered paid vacation, and 60% offered health insurance.


A total of 420,920 hours of overtime were paid out to DSPs in the last 30 days from 53 organizations.

FLS Wages

Of the 55 organizations reporting, the average starting frontline supervisor (FLS) annual salary was $31,552. The average FLS annual salary was $34,024. The average highest FLS annual salary was $38,731.

FLS Turnover

There was 21% overall annual FLS turnover in 53 organizations reporting. Of those FLSs who left their positions in 2020, 23% of FLSs left within 0-6 months of hire, and 29% left within 6-12 months of hire.

FLS Vacancy

The overall vacancy rate for FLSs in 50 organizations was 16%. 

COVID-19 Experiences

In Tennessee, of the 52 organizations who reported, 25% closed due to government mandate. 23% of organizations furloughed or laid off staff, 8% of organizations eliminated staff positions, and 15% of organizations cut staff hours. 52% relocated staff to another setting and 31% of organizations had staff living in residences to slow COVID-19 spread. 35% of organizations listed another experience during the pandemic.

Of the 61 organizations reporting, 87% of organizations were short-staffed due to the pandemic and 72% hired new staff due to the pandemic. Of those new staff, 26% of organizations gave staff typical training, 64% reported giving typical training plus additional COVID-19 training, and 10% reported that staff received no training at all.

In 58 organizations, 60% reported that they gave a monetary bonus to all DSPs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Of those that gave DSPs a monetary bonus, 21% gave a $0.01-$1.00 per hour bonus, 18% gave a $1.01-$2.00 per hour bonus, 3% gave a $2.01-$3.00 per hour bonus, 11% gave a $3.01+ per hour bonus, and 47% gave a lump sum bonus. 87% of organizations reported that there is an end date for the wage increase.