Staffing Shortages reach desperate levels at The Arc of Putnam County and at other community agencies that support individuals with developmental disabilities across the state of Florida
June 28, 2021
For years, The Arc of Putnam County and other similar organizations have struggled to recruit and retain quality Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) due to low wages and significant job responsibilities. Over the last 6 months, however, staffing shortages have reached critical levels, and pay discrepancies with comparable jobs will only worsen in the coming weeks. Beginning in July, the starting wage at the Arc of Putnam County will be $10.45 compared to $13.00 for State of Florida employees performing similar work. In total, The Arc of Putnam County requires 61 staff to operate the residential program and it currently has 25 staff vacancies, meaning over 40% of the positions are vacant. Increasing staff wages is the goal, but is dependent on funding. To pay every Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) at The Arc of Putnam County $13.00, the agency would need to come up with an additional $192,000 annually, and that doesn’t account for wage compression and the increases that DSP managers would then need, who have even more responsibilities and currently make around $13.
In organizations like the Arc, staffing shortages mean vulnerable individuals with developmental disabilities will not be able to receive quality care in their home community. Current residents are depending on overworked and underpaid staff to help manage their healthcare, prepare their meals, and perhaps most alarming, administer complex medication regimens. It means potential residents, desperate for a new home have to wait. The Arc of Putnam currently has one new residential referral pending. The individual has a bedroom reserved in the newest 6-bedroom home, but the Arc cannot accept the individual until they get more staff. The resident’s family is in an urgent situation. They have cared for their adult child as long as they physically could and now they desperately need help. They have the funding and the plan in place, but the individual cannot move in. Adding a resident to this group home would mean the home would need two staff during most shifts. The home currently has five residents and requires 6 total staff to run the house; there is 1 staff on the permanent schedule. The remaining staff shifts are being covered by other staff who work in different homes but are willing to work overtime. The home also doesn’t have a manager, so the Residential Director, who has worked in the industry for 36 years and is considered one of the best in her field, finds herself running the house, working weekend and overnight shifts whenever necessary, the same work she did when she started her career over 3 decades ago.
This is a nationwide problem The Arc of the United States is also focused on; however, it is more severe in Florida because the state ranks 49out of 50 states for fiscal effort for Intellectual and Developmental Disability services. The State of Florida is currently considering different strategies to allow community-based agencies like The Arc of Putnam County, to pay higher wages; however, while that is being determined, The Arc of Putnam County must determine sustainability. How long will the most committed staff be willing to work significant amounts of overtime? And, at what point, will The Arc of Putnam County have to face the reality that they do not have enough staff to safely operate current programs and therefore, be forced to consolidate and decrease the number of people it provides services to.
About Direct Support Professionals (DSPs): Direct Support Professionals (DSP’s) are the backbone of any organization providing critical services and support for people with developmental disabilities. At The Arc of Putnam County, DSP’s work directly with adults with developmental disabilities, providing assistance for daily activities like bathing, dressing, and community safety, to more complex tasks such as monitoring symptoms of serious medical conditions, responding to health and safety emergencies, and providing highly state-regulated medication administration duties. It’s a serious profession with serious responsibilities that cannot be done without a full complement of professional training along with ongoing competency-based performance testing protocols. DSP’s must also pass initial drug screening, random drug screening, and pass very thorough background screenings. DSP’s are a select group. Without highly trained and dedicated DSP’s, The Arc could not continue to serve the people with developmental disabilities as it has for over 45 years.
The Arc of Putnam County provides advocacy, individually tailored living environments, meaningful day activities, work training, employment services, and support to residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities including autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and spina bifida.