Catastrophic. That’s how ANCOR’s report, The State of America’s Direct Support Workforce Crisis 2022, describes today’s direct support professionals (DSP) workforce crisis and its impact on serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). The report also says, “this workforce emergency is now to the point of denying access to services and further threatening the quality of services for people with I/DD.” A few specific stats to highlight:
- 83% of providers are turning away new referrals
- 63% of providers are discontinuing programs and services
- 92% of providers are struggling to achieve quality standards
- 66% of providers are concerned vacancy and turnover rates will increase with the end of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency
Policy, legislation, funding—these are critical factors that need to change to stabilize the DSP workforce. But these things can’t happen overnight. In the meantime, it’s important to identify factors that you can control to make this difficult work a little bit easier for the hard-working individuals who sign on to do it.
How Does Technology Impact the DSP Workforce Crisis?
Serving as a DSP is demanding, especially considering the complex documentation requirements they must comply with. Yet, DSPs will do their job with whatever tools they have. Too often, that still means relying on a very manual, paper-driven system. Having the right tools to assist and simplify documentation requirements can make the administrative part of the job easier, as well as freeing up time to work with individuals—the real reason someone chooses to be a DSP. In this sense, not only does technology help boost both client- and business-related outcomes, but it can also impact workforce recruitment and retention and impact worker well-being by reducing some of the work-related burdens of the job. Many states are investing in technology-driven support options for individuals with developmental disabilities (Ohio’s “Technology First” initiative is a prime example). If we recognize that these tools can support the people receiving services, it only makes sense to invest in them to support the people providing and coordinating services too. As you think through the types of technology that can have the most impact, keep these things in mind:
Provide tools that are easy to use.
DSPs often get minimal training before they start working with clients. It can be overwhelming to try to take care of someone who doesn’t know you, doesn’t trust you, and may not even want your help. The job is difficult enough that technology shouldn’t make it harder. Any software DSPs need to use while interacting with clients should be quick to learn, easy to navigate, and help them identify and prioritize the critical tasks they need to accomplish during each visit. That way they can spend the rest of the time listening to clients and helping them work through issues.
Provide tools that are accessible on any device.
DSPs often want to use their own phone to coordinate care when they’re in the field. Many also contract with several different provider agencies and don’t want to have to continuously switch devices as they switch shifts. Any technology you provide needs to be easily accessible on any device, anywhere in the community. This also means you should look for an app with built-in security and privacy measures to protect client data.
Choose the right tool for the job.
It’s a common trap for agencies to gravitate toward the technology that has the most features. However, the more features an app has, the more complicated it becomes for DSPs to figure it out. Instead, look for a handful of critical features that will have the greatest impact on your workforce and are easy to learn and use. A simple solution means less chance for DSP errors and more usage, which translates to more data captured for better billing and compliance.
Make information easy to capture.
Agencies need to collect a lot of data and information to run their business and be informed about their consumers. DSPs are on the frontline of knowing what’s going on with each client, but they have too much going on to be the sole person capturing all this information that an agency needs. Technology should make it easy for DSPs to only capture the new information they need in that moment, and then allow the system to fill in the rest of the previously known information behind the scenes. Again, the idea is not to burden staff who already have a very challenging and important job with data entry, which has been linked to higher job dissatisfaction and turnover.
Close the compliance gap.
Ensuring providers can accurately capture the information they need for service compliance and regulations (e.g., Electronic Visit Verification) is critical, but shouldn’t require additional work from the DSP. You get the best of both worlds—ensuring compliance without sacrificing quality care—when mobile tools allow these tasks to run in the background. For example, we built Connect a Voice in a way that allows DSPs to easily document information while performing care, plus organize that information into outputs that management can easily use and digest for their own purposes. Developmental disabilities care will always be complex, but policymakers, providers, and technology partners can all work together to relieve some of the day-to-day burdens that currently overwhelm DSPs. That way they can focus on improving the quality of care and helping individuals with developmental disabilities succeed.