Two days before Direct Support Manager Kasey had her fifth baby, she worked a twelve-hour day shift and a grave because of the staff shortage. Working tirelessly to care for deserving individuals, her team needed a break, and so did she. Relief never came. As the staff shortage persists, Kasey’s stress has increased and the individuals for whom she cares are experiencing the consequences of a system on the verge of collapse.
The hiring crisis and subsequent wage increases at restaurants and businesses like Walmart, Costco, Amazon, and Intermountain Healthcare have made it so wages for Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) are no longer competitive. This wage disparity is causing an exodus of DSPs as they seek higher wages to provide for themselves and their families.
These conditions place people with intellectual disabilities in a crisis of care. The remaining DSPs fill vacant shifts, sometimes working 20 consecutive hours or more, pushing their mental and physical limits to ensure vital care for individuals who are unable to care for themselves without help. They are operating on too little sleep and too many work hours each week. While laudable, their effort is unsustainable and unsafe.
Direct Support Manager Nicole says, “With the lack of staffing, I have struggled emotionally. [I’m] feeling exhausted, burnt out, irritable, and overwhelmed to [the point] where I need to give myself a couple of minutes to regroup before breaking down. . . .”
As the DSP burnout rates increase, people with disabilities face the systematic loss of basic rights. Without professional care, many individuals are unable to go grocery shopping, prepare a meal, bathe, visit friends and family, stay safe, accurately take medication, and so on. The hiring crisis is threatening this vulnerable population's access to necessary services. In fact some individuals with disabilities, who are currently contributing members in their communities, are losing services completely. When this happens, they are at risk of being institutionalized or becoming homeless.
To sustain the basic rights of people with disabilities, it is crucial that the Utah Department of Human Services and the Utah Legislature take action to increase funding for existing services. The state sets contracted rates which result in the wage for DSPs. If Legislators vote to increase rates, the position as a Direct Support Professional will become more enticing for current DSPs and for those searching for employment. Over the past couple years, the pay rate for DSPs has increased, but too little to withstand the current workforce crisis and replenish the number of essential employees needed. Increased rates will provide people with disabilities a safe and stable environment in which to live their lives.
With colleges and universities back in session, Kasey has fewer staff to work graves. She is staring down a long tunnel of night shifts while trying to provide for her five children. She is a safety net for people with disabilities, but a net does little good when it’s fraying. We must act now to ensure that people with intellectual disabilities continue to receive life-sustaining services.
Kasey’s story is one of many. Want to help support the effort to resolve this crisis? Click here.