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Pandemic tough on disability service providers | READER COMMENTARY

Participants enjoy the company of friends during a celebration of the Summer Youth Employment program at The Arc of Carroll County on Wednesday, August 7, 2019. (Carroll County Times/Brian Krista).
Participants enjoy the company of friends during a celebration of the Summer Youth Employment program at The Arc of Carroll County on Wednesday, August 7, 2019. (Carroll County Times/Brian Krista). (Brian Krista/Carroll County Times)

Despite record unemployment due to the pandemic, disability services organizations like The Arc Baltimore are continuing to struggle to fill direct support professional DSP positions (”Q&A: Union Bridge resident JK Ferrell is Arc Baltimore award winner for career excellence,” Aug. 31).

DSPs are the backbone of the system of supports that The Arc and similar agencies provide to people with developmental disabilities. What these staff do is hugely important, and the reality is that for those in the direct support profession, there is a huge reward in knowing they are making a positive impact on the life of a person with disabilities.

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COVID-19 unquestionably has made recruitment of new employees harder. Applicants are wary of perceived on-the-job risks, even though measures are working to keep DSPs and the people they support safe.

This said, we have to acknowledge the numbers. Nationally, the average turnover for DSPs is nearly 50%, with only 21% staying six to 12 months on the job. This is why state increases and Medicaid funding made possible by Gov. Larry Hogan and the Maryland General Assembly have been instrumental to keeping DSP wages moving in the right direction. This helps in attracting and retaining more of these vital professionals, which in turn means more people with disabilities can receive the supports they need to find jobs, live safely in their homes and become a vibrant part of our community.

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Beyond salaries and benefits, though, direct support work is personally rewarding. It is valued profession with tremendous opportunity. Unfortunately, without an influx of new staff, our services will continue to be at risk and some agencies simply won’t be able to stay in business.

Kathleen McNally Durkin, Towson

The writer is CEO of The Arc Baltimore, which supports people with developmental disabilities to lead fulfilling lives with a sense of belonging, purpose and meaningful relationships.

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