First of all, I'd like to thank our nation's direct support professionals for their commitment and dedication to people with disabilities. To be an effective direct support professional, one forges a strong relationship with whom they work, while demonstrating complex skills and a commitment to professional ethics. Direct support is one of the most challenging yet rewarding occupations in the country. It's my wish that every direct support professional receives the due recognition they deserve during National Direct Support Professional Recognition Week and that we all take a moment to reflect on the incredible impact that direct support professionals have on the lives and personal outcomes of the people they support.
As our economy grows stronger and government reimbursement rates remain stagnant, direct support professional wages fall farther behind the rate of inflation. Human service organizations find themselves steeped in crisis, struggling to find and keep these most valuable workers. In fact, this workforce crisis was predicted decades ago and has not been forthrightly addressed in any significant way to build a viable career to which people are drawn and duly compensated.
I have the honor of meeting thousands of direct support professionals each year, many of whom tell me that they feel a sense of deep personal satisfaction derived from helping another on their life's journey. This is dignified and noble work, but it often requires direct support professionals to make personal sacrifices in order to provide the best support possible. To underscore these sacrifices, we've also heard stories of staggering hardship and met single mothers who work fulltime, unable to afford safe housing, living in homeless shelters. How can we, as a system, expect to support people with disabilities well, when we don't take care of those who provide vital direct support services?
The United States is in the process of reforming the larger task of the healthcare industry, which includes services for individuals with developmental disabilities. Through the untiring work of self-advocates, families, direct support professionals, service provider agencies, and public policy makers, a largely institutional care system has been turned on its head by developing a myriad of community-based supports and service options over the past four decades. Now we must demonstrate leadership by preserving and advancing the successes of the past by embracing the work of direct support as a profession and attracting new generations of men and women who seek it as a career.
In order to fulfill the promises made to people with disabilities and their families, stakeholders and advocates within this vast system must prioritize the direct support workforce crisis as its number one policy issue. Together, we must demand that policy makers on the federal and local levels address the financial underpinnings of the Medicaid and Medicare systems which provide for the wages and benefits of the majority of staff who directly support the needs of people with disabilities.
Further reflection calls for us to provide opportunities to make direct support a life-long career by creating career ladders through advanced training and certification/credentialing. Each rung of a ladder, which would be tied to salary increments, should reflect proficiency in more complex work or specialty areas associated with the provision of direct support services. One only needs to look at the data on Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs), an occupation that shares many skill-sets and occupational challenges as our direct support professionals. In virtually every state,
CNAs are compensated higher
than our workforce and the only reason that I can determine would be that CNAs are required by law to have a certification.
The time to act is now. Many are depending on it. Please write me if you are interested in building this coalition for change.
Joseph M. Macbeth