The media and members of the community have honored and shown appreciation for a variety of front-line workers. Doctors, nurses, mail deliverers, factory and grocery workers have been tirelessly dedicated to their jobs, helping all of us survive the Covid-19 pandemic.  I wholeheartedly believe each of these men and women are true heroes and include them in my prayers each night.  However, one hero title that goes unmentioned is a profession dear to my heart — the Direct Support Professional.  

If this is the first time you are hearing the term Direct Support Professional, then that further proves the need to spotlight these selfless individuals. Because they are not just unsung heroes in this pandemic, but they are professionals that are often under-recognized.  Still have no clue what a Direct Support Professional is?  Allow me to educate you. 

Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) are individuals working directly to support those with intellectual disabilities. Through teaching and modeling skills, these trained professionals further the independence of the individual with a disability, while also providing the needed supervision to protect his/her health, safety, and welfare. The responsibilities of a DSP take numerous hours of on-going specialized training, daily extensive documentation reporting, learning person-centered teaching strategies to support an individual’s goals, hygiene care, behavior strategy management, medication administration, and not to mention unconditional love and engagement with one of the most vulnerable populations. DSPs may be asked to work one-on-one directly with an individual with a disability, while others work with up to three individuals at a time within a residential home environment. 

What I have described above is just the everyday expectations and responsibilities of those individuals employed as a DSP, a profession that pays on average in the United States $10.29/hour, according to Payscale’s website.  These average wages for a DSP reflect Medicaid reimbursement rates to providers in order to support individuals with disabilities, through a variety of services. 

I’m writing this article to honor and show appreciation to those who are DSPs everyday, but especially during this pandemic. I am the Executive Director of Puzzle Pieces in Owensboro, Kentucky, which is a nonprofit service provider to those with disabilities.  We are currently serving 29 clients with disabilities during the Covid-19 crisis with the help of 22 DSPs providing the direct care.  However, prior to the crisis forcing providers to close on-site services Puzzle Pieces was serving 164 clients with disabilities with 64 staff on payroll.   DSPs currently working are classified as essential healthcare workers, putting them among the unsung heroes during this crisis.  

Those with disabilities are just one of the vulnerable populations during this pandemic, but they are the only population that struggles with understanding the concept of “health at home,” or  why routines have been disrupted and favorite businesses are closed.  This means that DSPs are not just taking care of all of their standard responsibilities, but now finding creative ways to reduce clients’ anxiety and behaviors associated with the Covid-19 requirements. DSPs are risking their own lives to take care of another.  Some DSPs are living in residential homes for days in a row, away from their families just to reduce the risk to the clients.  And although these extreme sacrifices are similar to some other heroes helping to fight the Covid-19, DSPs are rarely recognized for their selfless dedication.

In conclusion, I hope this article inspired each reader to honor and show love to the unsung heroes of all DSPs across the United States who are providing such needed care to one of our most vulnerable populations.  This profession holds a special place in my heart, because my team at Puzzle Pieces is made up of over 50 DSPs. My team works alongside me in ensuring what was once my dream (founding Puzzle Pieces), has now become a living dream of theirs that exceeded my imaginization. (#puzzlepiecesstrong)   These individuals go above and beyond to ensure not just the safety of our clients, but are bringing happiness and a sense of normalcy in a time that is anything but normal. 

Click here to read and article from Puzzle Pieces in Owensboro, Kentucky: seeing the silver linings among COVID-19!

Puzzle Pieces was a dream of mine over seven years ago. I am still amazed how our mission continues to grow and services expand. I couldn’t have made Puzzle Pieces a reality without my amazing Direct Support Professionals! They are not just the unsung heroes, but they are my heroes. Forever grateful.

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