Increase wages for DSPs

Gov. Mike DeWine’s proposed budget for the 2019-2021 biennium includes additional funding for direct support professionals — DSPs — who work with Ohioans with developmental disabilities.

DSPs work closely with individuals with a variety of intellectual and physical disabilities and are required — entrusted — to provide intimate personal care, administer medication, teach and recreate, plus provide emotional support and encouragement. They must manage finances, maintain a home, plan and prepare nutritious meals, anticipate needs, accurately document services provided, maintain a positive and respectful attitude, and over-all ensure health, safety and wellbeing.

These activities are carried out in home settings 24/7, requiring schedules that cover evenings, nights, weekends and holidays.

People who provide these hands-on services have big hearts combined with a commitment to serve those who cannot care for themselves. However, most DSPs earn income at or below poverty level; many qualify for and receive public assistance. Low starting wage is the major cause cited for the alarming 40%-plus turnover rate in direct support positions, which causes significant disruption in the lives of those we serve.

Sandusky-based Renaissance House Inc. — a non-profit — has been caring for area citizens with developmental disabilities in home settings for nearly 40 years. Like other direct support service providers in Ohio, we are now facing an unprecedented workforce crisis.

Under the current reimbursement structure from the state, we cannot compete for quality employees in a tight labor market. Since 2005 (14 years), state reimbursement for DSP positions has increased by a meager 7.04%, while inflation has risen 29%.

Maintaining a stable workforce of qualified, compassionate and competent direct service professionals to work with those who need our services is crucial for quality care. Ohio’s developmentally disabled citizens deserve better. Ohioans should insist on placing a higher value on those who care for family members, neighbors and friends in their communities.

I encourage the Ohio Legislature support to the governor’s budget proposal to increase wages for DSPs so we can recruit and retain quality men and women to provide consistent care and comfort to Ohio’s developmentally disabled citizens.

Robert Weinhardt is executive director of Renaissance House Inc.