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Direct Support Professional, the Unsung Heroes

Family Services of Western PA celebrates National Direct Support Professionals Week by recognizing Western Pennsylvania’s unsung heroes who help residents with physical, intellectual and developmental disabilities 

The week of September 12-19 has been declared National Direct Support Professionals Week in an effort to recognize and express appreciation for the work of community providers caring for our friends, family and neighbors with disabilities. 

Many people are unaware of the important services that Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) provide, even though many of them may know people who would benefit from support, or may someday need support themselves.  DSPs assist their clients—diagnosed with intellectual, developmental or physical disabilities—with the hands-on activities of daily living.  Many of these clients are able to live in a home instead of an institution because of their DSPs.  

This critical workforce is responsible for the health, safety and emotional well-being of the individuals they support, helping them to live more meaningful and productive lives by encouraging them to be active in their communities and helping them maintain independence. 

The need for the quality care provided by DSPs is constantly growing, as the population ages and the number of individuals living with disabilities increases.  The amount of people who choose this field as a profession, however, is not meeting this growth.   Low wages and benefits for state and federally funded services have resulted in a high turnover rate among DSPs, which contributes to a shortage of these workers available to clients in need. 

Family Services of Western Pennsylvania employs over 100 direct care staff in 18 Community Living Arrangements in Allegheny and Westmoreland County, in addition to the staff who work in clinics and in people’s homes providing services.  We have many examples of the amazing work of these individuals, who represent workers of all ages and backgrounds.  We have thousands of stories about how their work is life-enriching for them and the clients they serve. 

To increase the number of DSPs and help more clients, policy makers should support efforts to increase wages and benefits, including raising reimbursement rates covering the care provided by DSPs.  It is much more cost effective to enable disabled citizens to remain at home with the help of DSPs, rather than pay to have them live in facility that offers care. 

Family Services of Western Pennsylvania is part of the Pennsylvania Community Providers Association (PCPA)PCPA represents DSPs and other community service providers, and is trying to raise awareness and advocate for change that will better the working climate for DSPs.  During National Direct Support Professionals Week, PCPA is encouraging members of the public to learn about the services provided by DSPs and support policies to improve those services.   For more information about PCPA, contact: George Kimes at 717-364-3280 or george@paproviders.org. Learn more at www.youneedtoknowme.org.

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