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Towards Independence has about 200 direct support professionals, but Schlater says he could probably “hire another 30-40 tomorrow.”
“Most of the suppliers in Ohio don’t take new business. We are seeing more and more providers in Ohio turning down services because they don’t have enough staff, ”he said.
As of Sept. 8, 1,822 people were on the waiting list for community or home service waivers in the state of Ohio, more than half of whom are under the age of 21. More than likely, the waiting list will grow. .
The state has taken steps to address the problem. On September 21, the Ohio Department of Developmental Disorders announced it would waive the requirement that direct support professionals must have a high school diploma or GED until September 30, and would temporarily allow the hiring of young people aged 16 and 17. Underage employees perform more limited duties, cannot administer medication, and must work with another direct support professional, but state officials say the move will attract more applicants into a stretched industry.
“As direct support assistants enter the workforce as adults, they will already have the knowledge and skills to continue to improve the lives of people with developmental disabilities,” Director Jeffrey Davis wrote in an email.
Despite this, major issues remain with regard to the hiring and retention of employees. Agencies currently struggle to provide competitive salaries, and while private companies may increase salaries to deal with labor shortages, direct support organizations cannot.
“Other companies can change their hours, cut services, but we can’t do it,” Schlater said. “Lives are at stake here. “
“The rate they get is fixed in the rule,” Combs said. “An agency gets a unit rate for the service and then pays DSPs based on that. There is a very small margin with operating costs.
“The state matches federal dollars, but the state of Ohio sets those rates,” Schlater said. “We are seeing more and more companies spending more than what they are reimbursed for. It is a looming disaster.
The starting wage for support workers starts at $ 13 an hour. Kelly Bergstrom, senior director of services for Graceworks Enhanced Living, says that in a perfect world, her dedicated employees would get double.
“It’s not just a job where you just take care of someone. These people become our family,” she said. “If we want to bring in a quality caregiver, a quality person. , our reimbursement rates must support a living wage. ”
To further complicate the problem, many support workers who work full time are still dependent on benefits, including food assistance and child care.
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“The salary has to either stay low enough that they keep their food stamps or high enough that they can afford full-time child care,” Bergstrom said. “I don’t know what that balance is, but $ 13 is not it.”
Direct support professionals play a vital role in the lives of people with disabilities, providing home assistance, medical assistance, transportation and activities. Ultimately, the role of a support worker is to help people with disabilities live lives of dignity.
“The role of a DSP is so unique,” Combs said. “It’s very different from a nursing home. You support people throughout their lives to achieve their wishes and what they want for themselves. We hope that increased visibility of people with physical or developmental disabilities will bring greater awareness to this area. “
This lack of awareness means that many people are unaware that these jobs are available.
“There is this belief that PSD as a job is not a career path. And we want to challenge that greatly. There is an opportunity for upward mobility, ”Combs said.
Combs and Schlater both started their careers as support professionals themselves.
“The people we serve are in your neighborhoods,” Schlater said. “All over the Miami Valley there are individuals in group homes that blend into the community. The reality is people don’t realize the jobs are in their own neighborhood.