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What are the duties of a Direct Support Professional (DSP)?

What does a Direct Support Professional do? Direct Support Professionals work directly with individuals who have intellectual or developmental disabilities. Day-to-day they assist individuals with various daily living activities such as bathing, eating, administering medications, personal hygiene, and grooming, as well as supporting people in employment and day programming.

A DSP differs from a caregiver because a DSP will work with someone to enable them to do things independently, such as helping pick out groceries or learn work skills. In this way, DSPs teach people with disabilities how to do things for themselves and how to live independently.


What is the DSP Crisis?

The direct support workforce crisis is largely attributable to stagnant reimbursement rates and the inability of providers to offer wages that are competitive with those of hourly-wage industries, in addition to the complex and sometimes taxing job duties.

As a provider who recruits qualified staff to provide supports to the participants in our programs, the challenge to hire and retain staff is onerous. This is due primarily to the low reimbursement rate set by the state.  The job responsibilities for the DSP position are demanding and have increased with regulatory changes in recent years, while the wage has largely remained the same. 

In addition, the people who live and work in Philadelphia have an added burden due to the higher cost of housing, basic necessities, and an added city wage tax.  

All of these factors contribute to a job vacancy rate of over 20% and a high turnover rate of over 30% for the DSP role.  This high turnover figure carries a high cost to providers – but its effect is even greater on the people supported in our system. When a position goes vacant it must be filled, whether through staff overtime or use of staffing agencies.  Overworked staff cause burnout, perpetuating the problem of employee retention and subsequent turnover, while the use of staffing agencies to fill vacant or hard to fill positions often creates a revolving door environment of inconsistent staffing.  Both of these factors affect the person with a disability receiving services, and they become losers in the endless battle of obtaining and maintaining qualified staff. 

Resources Available

Check out all of the resources that can help facilitate a conversation with legislators put together by the Pennsylvania Advocacy and Resources for Autism and Intellectual Disabilities (PAR)


New Video- Not Our Fault 

The Arc of Cumberland & Perry Counties released a powerful video addressing the lack of funding for direct support professionals.  Anne and her team produced a highly impactful and emotional story from the perspective of individuals and families.