These uncertain times have led to some shortages, uncertainty and many changes to routine and habit. One shortage, however, is not of any items, but of personnel.
Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) work with individuals with developmental disabilities to ensure their safety, care and happiness. These are care workers who go into their clients homes, help with deeply personal issues (as well as more superficial issues) and ensure their charge is living a good life with community inclusion.
Kevin Davis, superintendent of the Athens County Board of Developmental Disabilities, said that at this time, the Board is helping facilitate hiring more DSPs in Athens County. DSPs would then be employees of various service providers, such as HAVAR and Echoing Hills.
Davis started his career as a DSP, and said it helped lead him to his current profession.
“I loved it, it helped shape my life and career,” he said. “I strongly recommend the opportunity for young adults or mid-life professionals — there is not a more rewarding job than being a DSP.”
Currently, around eight agencies hire DSPs in Athens County, with more than 225 individuals currently serving in that capacity.
COVID-19 is a major threat to individuals with disabilities, as many have vulnerable immune systems.
“The individuals that DSP’s work with often have more vulnerable immune systems, which makes it an even more challenging job,” Davis said. “We have to be extremely cautious so as to not be carriers. COVID-19 has been extremely difficult for providers.”
He noted a growing fear of coming to work, as providers have a greater possibility of transmitting it or catching it themselves.
“Individuals get sick, and that leads to potential issues with the DSP’s — you can be quarantined just because you went to work,” Davis said. “We’re all faced with those issues, but it’s making it hard for agencies to cover all the shifts.”
On Saturday, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine issued an order stating that all day programs for people with disabilities would be closed with exceptions for programs with less than 10 individuals involved. ACBDD does not hire DSPs, but helps facilitate filling shifts offered by agencies.
“The order on Saturday would theoretically open up those employees from the day program who then could be DSP’s in our system. (DeWine) wants to protect people with disabilities from COVID and affords agencies the flexibility to reassign to residential cases,” Davis said.
Agencies are still struggling, however. Passion Works Studio, a collaborative community arts center, has a core group of practicing professional artists with developmental disabilities. Because of this, the studio has closed its physical location.
“Our staff continues to make art and product at home, many of our core artists have supplies and continue to work from home and our board and leadership are planning ways forward,” said Passion Works founder Patty Mitchell in a Passion Works Studio Facebook post. “During this interim, we would so appreciate you sharing our page with friends, your stories about Passion Works and adding/sharing to our fundraiser.”
The studio was closed to the public beginning March 14, and started a fundraiser to help bridge the gap in funding anticipated from the pandemic.