It was early June of this year and things were looking grim. We thought if we could just get hold on until COVID vaccinations were available, the worst of the pandemic would be behind us. We couldn’t have been more wrong.
Having enough Direct Support Professional (DSP) staff is our biggest challenge. Staffing was harder than usual during the first year of the pandemic. As the vaccines started going in arms, we dared to hope that the staffing situation would improve. Instead we were consumed by a perfect economic storm that nearly sank us.
As vaccines became widely available, the economy began coming back to life…fast! This was great news except for one unintended consequence. Everyone started hiring at once. Businesses needed employees now. Our applicant pool, which isn’t very deep under the best circumstances, rapidly dried up. Then employers around us began raising wages and offering more incentives. Since the value of our services is set by the state, it’s hard for us to compete by raising wages or offering big sign-on bonuses and perks.
We watched in horror as our number of DSP staff openings moved up almost weekly. From the low teens, into the twenties, and the number just kept climbing. At 36 openings we knew the situation was reaching a flash point. Our managers had figured that if we reached 43 DSP openings, all managers would have to become full-time DSPs just to keep us alive. We knew that could lead to a staffing death spiral as managers burned out and left.
It was at this moment that three managers presented an idea…live-in DSPs. They proposed a radical change to our schedule where we would convert a number of our groups to a model where DSPs lived in the homes for a certain number of days each week and then had the other days off. These managers had calculated that we could significantly reduce the number of DSPs we would need to operate without lowering our DSP to person-served ratios.
We met for several hours as they explained their idea. It was a long shot. Would our DSPs even want to live in the homes? Most of us thought not, but we needed to try. We reached out to our Board of Directors, who moved quickly to give us the greenlight for the experiment. The three managers shared the schedules with our DSPs and two DSPs came up with ways to significantly improve the schedules. Then we put out the new live-in positions. We thought if we got eight people to be live-ins, we could hold it together. We didn’t get eight…we got 19 amazing DSPs who were willing to give the new schedules a try!
Over the course of a week, we went from 39 full-time DSP openings down to 14 (still rough, but manageable). As we approach the end of summer, we are looking to keep the live-in schedule as a long-term part of our agency. We are seeing the initial signs of benefits that go beyond DSP staffing. We are getting reports that some people served are experience reduced or complete absence of behavioral issues. This isn’t surprising as we’ve always known that consistent DSP staffing leads to better outcomes for the people we serve.
We don’t know how this experiment will end. The initial results are good but all ideas take time to evaluate. We do know that it wouldn’t have happened without the creative thinking and hard work of the managers and DSPs who created and shaped the live-in staffing model. Elizabeth, Ashley, Sarah, Karen and Tara are GBFC staff members who show the power of empowering people to come up with ideas and run with them.
Dignity Newsletter – Summer 2021