Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Crisis On The DSP Front

The month of September features a day to celebrate the achievements of American workers, so it seems only appropriate that the week beginning September 12 has been designated as “National Direct Support Professionals Recognition Week” by the U.S. Senate. The designation recognizes the invaluable supports Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) provide and the difference this workforce makes in the lives of Americans with disabilities.

We are so fortunate here in Colorado to have so many dedicated, talented, and passionate people who are willing not only to take on this difficult job, but to excel at it. Many of you readers no doubt see first hand every day the impact a Direct Support Professional can have on an individual with a cognitive or developmental disability.

I am glad this group of often underappreciated employees is being honored in this way, but it also brings to my mind a big challenge we will soon be facing (if we are not already there): there won’t be enough DSPs to meet the need for services.

Here’s a couple of charts that may help explain this:


Both in terms of overall numbers and as a percentage of the total population, the elderly population in the U.S. is growing at a rapid rate – and with the aging of the baby boomer generation, those numbers will continue to rise.

What does this have to do with a shortage of DSPs in the DD field? Well, we already know that many in the elderly population desire personal supports that are quite similar to the personal supports for those with developmental disabilities. Therefore, there will be increased competition for the services coupled with a smaller percentage of the overall population available to provide those serves.

In short, in less than a generation, we won’t have the workforce to provide all the services demanded, even if there was enough funding available for those services (an unlikely prospect).

We have a short timeline in which to create a system of supports and services that matches the reality we are soon to face. An obvious way to go would be to use technology to fill the gap of services. I can easily envision a supports system that seamlessly shifts from assistive technology to live services depending on the needs of an individual. A cost effective model that uses Demand Management principles to get the best rate of return on the limited amount of resources we have.

The technologies to make that vision possible are already emerging.

The problem is we have not seen a parallel emergence of ideas on how to shift our funding mechanisms or policies, or a shift in policies at any level of government: local, State, or Federal.

I find this surprising, because I think we are looking at a great opportunity. Those of us in the DD field have a chance to use our passion, smarts, and creativity to create a new paradigm on how services are funded and delivered; potentially creating the biggest meaningful change in the lives of those we serve since the early days of de-institutionalization.

Then again, what do I know?

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