Direct support professionals need wage increase

By Robin Sharpless, Binghamton Press & Sun Bulletin
Monday, April 4, 2022

This year marks 19 years since my now 16-year-old daughter, Abby, was diagnosed with a high-level glioblastoma — a parent’s worst nightmare.

Thankfully, Abby is cancer-free, but the toll of her treatment will endure for the rest of her life. She now lives with traumatic brain injury, severe executive function disorder, seizures, and memory issues.

Despite her long battle with cancer and the scars it left behind, when Abby receives the support she needs, her joyful, lively spirit continues to shine. With a full-time direct support professional (DSP) by her side, Abby can live at home where she feels most comfortable, and I can go to work every day with the comfort of knowing that her daily needs, such as shopping, picking up prescriptions and other appointments, will be attended to.

Most importantly, I know that when she is with her DSP, Abby has the support to go out into the community, where she can meet people, develop relationships, and enjoy the outdoors in good company.

Yet we have been in a shortage crisis of DSPs in New York for years, leaving many individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) like Abby without the professional care they desperately need and placing the onus on families like ours who are already stretched thin.

This statewide dearth of care professionals can be attributed to one critical factor: lack of fair pay. DSPs in New York are paid minimum wage or just above it, meaning nearly 90% earn less than $15 hourly. With such low salaries, DSPs are quitting in droves.

According to a 2021 survey released by Consumer Directed Personal Care Association of New York State, 70% of patients in Upstate New York whose DSPs quite cited low pay as the reason, with many taking new jobs in retail or food service for higher wages. Consequently, 25% of homecare-eligible patients across New York recently reported being unable to find homecare workers.

Our family’s lived experience reflects this reality. Deficient wages caused Abby’s last DSP to transition to other employment, leaving our family with a part-time individual who, while still essential, is only available to provide half the number of hours of care that Abby has been approved for. I fear that in the hours that she is without professional support, Abby will find herself indoors, isolated, and without her basic needs met.

While I am able to step in to ensure that Abby’s needs are met in the absence of a full-time DSP, I fear she still lacks the invaluable benefits and relationships provided by a professional, full-time caregiver. As a father whose family’s quality of life depends on it, I hope New York lawmakers are taking action to address this crisis and include a permanent wage increase for DSPs in the Fiscal Year 2022-21 budget.

DSPs work tirelessly to care for New york’s most vulnerable, and until they receive fair compensation, this critical staffing shortage will endure, and it is those like Abby who will continue to suffer.

Robin Sharpless is a Lansing resident.