From the CEO: The case for a direct support professional wage increase

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Being a caregiver is a difficult and exhausting job that comes with little fanfare. It is also an absolutely crucial job.

Caregivers – or direct support professionals (DSPs), as we call them – form the very backbone of ADEC, a nonprofit that serves and advocates for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Elkhart and St. Joseph counties.

ADEC’s nearly 400 employees have a real, positive and personal impact on the more than 1,000 people we serve, who are your friends and your neighbors.

DSPs are the ones that make dinner and sit around the table with their clients, talking about their days and their dreams. They’re the ones tucking our clients in at night, making sure they are comfortable and safe, and helping them get ready the next morning.

Donna Belusar

Donna Belusar is ADEC’s CEO and president.

They celebrate birthdays and holidays with our clients, and also share their grief during hard times.

DSPs are the ones helping our clients explore new vocations, like painting or woodworking. They are the ones forming close relationships with our clients, some of whom have never had a family or close companion, and helping them open up for the first time.

They are the ones that help our clients make their dreams come true, like completing the Chicago Marathon, running an online business or reconnecting with a long lost family member. They help our clients reach new levels of independence and they advocate tirelessly for our clients to be treated with dignity and respect.

DSPs at ADEC make sure people with disabilities lead lives full of choice and possibility.

The work our DSPs do is nothing short of incredible. Unfortunately, their pay does not always reflect that.

The average pay for a DSP in Indiana is $10.20 an hour – just barely above the federal poverty line for a family of three. Despite the fact that DSPs perform complex tasks, including administering medication, they are often the lowest paid in the health care sector.

A majority of DSPs in Indiana are the primary earner in their household, and 30 percent said on a survey that they work a second job to make ends meet. More than 80 percent said they wanted to stay in the field, but they just could not afford it — especially considering they could go to a fast food restaurant or retail chain and make more money.

At ADEC, we realize that we cannot always wait on the state or federal government to make changes. Our employees have families to feed and bills to pay regardless of how legislators choose to vote on the budget.

That’s why ADEC put forward our own strategic initiative to increase compensation for DSPs right now.

Beginning in January, ADEC increased starting pay for DSPs in residential services to $10.50 per hour, with an annual wage increase of 2.5 percent. We increased starting pay for DSPs in day services to $10 per hour, also with annual wage increase of 2.5 percent.

Still, it’s only a start. We did what we could with our own budget, but we receive the majority of our funding from Medicaid – a program that has been significantly cut in the state’s budget over the past several years.

According to The Arc of Indiana, many experts in the field believe we will not reach a stable workforce of caregivers until DSPs make at least $15 hourly. Until then, ADEC and agencies like ours across the state will continue to face a shortage of staff and high turnover rates.

We need Indiana to invest in these workers that provide critical care to some of the most vulnerable Hoosiers.

In conjunction with The Arc of Indiana, we are calling on the state to increase Medicaid service rates by 5 percent. That is an investment of $10 million each year, which would leverage an additional $20 million of federal matching funds.

That investment would increase DSP’s pay by about $1,700 each year – but it wouldn’t just benefit the employee. According to a study by the Indiana University Public Policy Institute, each new dollar Indiana invests in DSP wages would return $4.16 in economic activity for the state.

DSPs clock in each day with one mission in mind: providing exemplary care and critical support to the thousands of Hoosiers with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

DSPs have earned our respect and admiration. Now it’s time for them to earn fair pay.

YOU CAN HELP (FROM THE ARC OF INDIANA)

Public testimony was heard this week on HB 1001, the state biennial budget bill. The Arc of Indiana provided testimony on the Governor’s budget and expressed the need to address the shortage of quality DSPs in our state.

Next week, The Arc of Indiana expects budget conversations to continue as both the House Democrats and the House Republicans release their budget priorities and amendments. The Arc is hopeful that our proposed language regarding an increase in the Medicaid waiver service rates is included in both amendments.

Now is the time to help! Please contact your local legislators to express your support of increasing Medicaid waiver rates and higher wages for direct support professionals. Tell your personal story about the importance of your DSP in your life or the life of your loved one with a disability.

To find contact information for your local representative, visit: http://iga.in.gov/legislative/find-legislators/.

Comment(1)

  1. Reply
    Sharron Cain says

    I agree that we DSPs should be paid more. The turn over rate at these jobs are sad because of the small pay. Our clients become like family for us but the demand for DSPs are high but with little pay. I love working with my clients but would love a better pay, especially if sometimes I spend more time at work than at home. We like to feel our hard work compensate for something too.

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