‘Worse Than Usual’: Providers Weigh In on the DSP Staffing Crisis & What They’re Doing To Solve It [Part 2]

From recruiting to retention, our survey reveals how disability service agencies are addressing staffing shortages.

In our last article, we discussed the current state of the DSP staffing crisis as well as how staffing challenges are evolving more than a year into the pandemic. 


Today, we continue with a look at the strategies providers are using to address the DSP staffing crisis and their words of encouragement for agencies experiencing high turnover.


A quick recap of Part 1:

About these recommendations

Of course, we know that the scale and severity of the staffing crisis can vary widely across urban and rural areas within the same state, as well as by program type and setting. What’s true for one organization may not be true for another.

Nevertheless, much of the advice and strategies our survey respondents shared can be applied to any organization seeking solutions to the long-standing problem of DSP shortages.

Strategies for dealing with the staffing crisis

The DSP staffing crisis stems from high turnover and a lack of qualified people entering the field. Sometimes there’s not much you can do to change the situation, but often there are actions you can take to create positive changes. 


First off, it’s important to make sure you’re tapping into all potential avenues to recruit new DSPs. Recruiting is always a challenge, but many agencies are finding creative ways to get new DSPs in the door. 


Sherry Robitaille, VP of Operations and Compliance at Chapel Haven Schleifer Center, said her agency is holding virtual job fairs, contacting local colleges and other resources in the area, and experimenting with paid job postings to attract new hires. They’re also offering incentives to encourage current employees to refer qualified candidates:

“We have implemented a referral program for current staff who will get a small compensation for their referral being hired and remaining in the position for an identified period of time.”

Sherry Robitaille // Chapel Haven Schleifer Center

Along similar lines, Assistant Director Donna Roberts said her agency, United Support Services, invites families to spread the word about job openings and refer people they know:

“Ask families to reach out to those they know which might be interested (church, school, neighbors).”

Donna Roberts // United Support Services

Other strategies providers shared included offering a hiring bonus, increasing starting wages, simplifying your application, and actively recruiting at all times.


Equally as important as recruiting is retaining the staff you do have. A significant proportion of agencies said they’re dealing with higher than usual turnover during the pandemic. 


Not surprisingly, some respondents said the only strategy that will help with DSP retention is better wages. While providers don’t always have a lot of control in this area, many are championing higher rates for their employees. Lauren Measure, President of Waters & Sims Employment Services Inc., explains:

“We are working with other supported employment agencies to advocate for increasing the supported employment FFS rates in New Jersey.”

Lauren Measure // Waters & Sims Employment Services Inc.

In the meantime, providers are trying to find other perks to offer these employees, like better benefits and flexible work arrangements. They’re also looking for ways to make DSPs’ jobs easier; for example, by minimizing excessive work and recordkeeping.


Career advancement opportunities are also important for retention. Many employees leave their jobs because of a lack of opportunities to move up. Likewise, providing ample opportunities for training and professional growth can help ensure that employees feel supported. Rebecca Jannson, Director of Mainstay, said:

“We are restructuring our program to promote from within and have better support for long-time and newer staff.”

Rebecca Jansson // Mainstay

Several respondents emphasized the importance of culture. A positive workplace culture helps increase employee engagement, job satisfaction, and retention. On the other hand, a negative culture directly contributes to turnover. 


Katie Blumhorst, Service Leader at Capabilities, offered this advice:

“Get to the root of problems. Don't underestimate the negative impact a stressed and unhappy employee can have on your entire staff.”

Katie Blumhorst // Capabilities

Improving the employee experience can help. Some suggestions to do this included: 


  • increasing management support
  • showing appreciation (through words, gifts, and bonuses)
  • giving DSPs more autonomy and control
  • including staff in projects that improve processes and build new services

Words of encouragement

We also asked providers what words of encouragement they would offer for an organization experiencing a high turnover rate. 


Claudia Hutchinson, Chief of Operations at Adjoin (formerly Community Catalysts of California), had this to say:

“The people we serve are counting on us to help them resolve this crisis and provide them with the services they need. The DSPs also need our support. Continue to advocate for adequate funding and stay positive."

Claudia Hutchinson // Adjoin

Until rates improve, it’s going to be difficult for agencies to provide DSPs with a significant pay raise. Lauren Measure also encouraged providers not to give up on fighting for better rates. She underscored the need for agencies to band together in this effort:

“Work with other agencies to present a united front in advocating for increased rates in your state.”

Lauren Measure

It’s going to be an uphill battle. Still, providers have to keep going and not lose sight of why they do this work in the first place. Katie Blumhorst shared these words of encouragement:

“You are doing good work. It may not be as much as you want, but quality work is appreciated by the people you serve.”

Katie Blumhorst

Others offered some tough love: if you can’t afford to pay people a livable wage, then you can’t afford to stay in business. Finally, several respondents said to appreciate the staff you do have.

Now over to you

If you didn’t get a chance to participate in our survey, we’d love to hear from you on social media: How is your agency addressing the DSP staffing crisis? Let us know on  Facebook or LinkedIn. And don’t forget to subscribe to the SETWorks blog for future research and updates!

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