By Steve Suroviec, President and CEO
Did you know that September 13 – 19 is national “Direct Support Professionals (DSP) Recognition Week?” Have you thanked a DSP lately?
I am proud to lead Achieva and am very appreciative of how our valued DSPs responded to the COVID-19 pandemic - not only keeping the people with disabilities we support safe and healthy, but making sure they had opportunities to stay engaged and connected to their family, friends, and community when stay-at-home directives were imposed and disability programs shuttered by our state government. These past several months have been challenging for everyone in the disability services field, but this period has also led to new innovations, and creative ways to support the people served by DSPs within our organization. In addition to employing enhanced cleaning and prevention efforts as part of our universal precaution efforts, DSPs sought innovative uses of technology (I-pads and Tablets) to keep people they supported connected with those outside the home. And they embraced one-to-one conversations and individualized planning to enable the people they supported to leave their homes and experience what their local communities had to offer when the facility-based programs to which they were accustomed closed due to COVID-19."
We’ve been fortunate to have such dedicated frontline employees during this time, many of whom risked their own health and safety to do their job and help the people they support “lead lives of personal significance.” I am so grateful to all of Achieva’s DSPs for their dedication, whether it was adjusting to the new rules and protocols being put in place by government regulators, or embracing reassignments to new positions to assist people with disabilities in other programs. Achieva’s DSPs really stepped up to the plate during COVID-19!
Unfortunately, our elected officials in Harrisburg all too often overlook DSPs in our system and take them for granted. I reported last month that Achieva applied for the much-heralded “hazard pay grant” offered by the state to pay frontline workers enhanced wages this fall. Achieva and its DSPs were certainly eligible and deserving, yet the PA Department of Community and Economic Development did not approve our application - with no explanation provided. We later learned that fewer than 700 businesses were awarded the grant statewide out of the 10,000 that applied. Looking at the list of awardees, I saw only a relative handful of organizations that provided services to people with intellectual/developmental disabilities (I/DD). Then, adding insult to injury, when a state-issued press release circulated announcing enhanced compensation to be made specifically to DSPs serving people with disabilities, more disappointment followed when it was learned that the money would only apply to DSPs working for organizations funded by the PA Office of Long-Term Living. DSPs serving people with I/DD were not included.
While I cannot explain why state decision makers continue to overlook DSPs in the I/DD system and take them for granted, I can say that Achieva and its supporters never will. Please take a moment to send a card, text or email to a DSP you know, and thank them for the work they do and the positive impact they have on the people they support. (And while you’re at it, consider sending a “cc” to Governor Wolf and your state senator and representative – maybe they need to get the message, too.)