Engaging State Partners on the DSP Shortage

Julie Kramme presenting data at the University of Minnesota’s public engagement conference, Partnering with Minnesota: Connecting the University with Urban, Suburban, and Rural Communities through Public Engagement. March 5, 2020.

ICI’s Julie Kramme (pictured) and Barbara Kleist presented findings from a pair of surveys unlocking keys to the critical shortage of direct support professionals (DSPs) as part of the University of Minnesota’s recent public engagement conference, Partnering with Minnesota: Connecting the University with Urban, Suburban, and Rural Communities through Public Engagement.

The system-wide conference brought together faculty, staff, administrators and community partners from a wide array of disciplines to explore ways publicly-engaged research, teaching and outreach are addressing Minnesota’s most pressing issues. The day-long session, held at Coffman Memorial Union on March 5, included a keynote address by Jane Leonard, a nationally-known leader on rural, economic, and community development issues. She is President of Growth & Justice in St. Paul, a nonprofit organization focused on building a more equitable and sustainable economy.

Toward that end, Kramme and Kleist shared data from surveys of individual DSPs and organizations that employ DSPs to support people with disabilities in their daily lives. The surveys found that due to chronically low pay—averaging $12.61 per hour in Minnesota—71 percent of direct support professionals rely on government subsidies for health benefits, 30 percent use government assistance with energy bills, and 23 percent receive assistance for food. Slightly more than half of organizations offer health insurance to their full-time DSPs.

“Not surprisingly, there is a high turnover rate in this field,” Kramme said. “Many people love the work, but find it extremely difficult to think of it as a career when they are struggling to pay for basic necessities.”

Beyond the numbers, Kleist discussed promising recruitment and retention techniques ICI is working on with organizations in Tennessee, as well as legislative efforts to reclassify DSP work into a new standard occupational code, a move designed to elevate professionalism and pay in the industry.

“We are helping organizations understand what works and what doesn’t, based on decades of experience at this,” said Kleist. “Think of high turnover rates as money you’re never going to get back. We offer retention calculators, competency building skills, and a variety of solutions that can help organizations stop hiring the wrong set of skills over and over.”