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Supporting Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) and people with disabilities

In this commentary, Pennsylvania resident David Seitz advocates for continued commitment and investment to support Pennsylvania Heroes, DSPs.

As an experienced professional social worker (DSP), I have spent over 40 years caring for people like Brian, a 53-year-old man with Down syndrome, mental health issues and early dementia. My journey began in 1979, inspired by my mother's commitment to social work and driven by a deep-rooted commitment to improving people's lives.

Throughout my career, I have seen first-hand the challenges and successes of caring for people with disabilities. From sporadic weekend work to grueling work schedules, the demands of this profession are immense. Yet, despite the sacrifices and hardships, my passion for this field has only deepened over the years.

Brian's story is just one example of the countless people who rely on DSPs in their daily lives. As someone who requires 24/7 support to live successfully in his own home, Brian's well-being depends on the dedication and commitment of DSPs like me.

Unfortunately, the current state of affairs is untenable. Low wages, high turnover rates and inadequate funding threaten the stability and quality of care for people like Brian. DSPs often work overtime, not only to make ends meet financially, but also out of deep compassion and commitment to their clients. In doing so, many DSPs are forced to sacrifice the time they need to support their own children and aging parents, or the time to take on their second or third job.

DSPs, myself included, are often asked to stay extra hours or even extra days after working our own full-time shift because the next shift's DSP has had a family emergency of their own and is unable to report for duty and no support staff is available. We often miss family events or are not present at our own children's events. When I found myself not attending family and community events, I was asked by friends and relatives, “When are you going to leave this job?”

DSPs are a dedicated and caring group of professionals. Many of us can tell powerful stories about how much we have to sacrifice for our work. Recently, when my company didn't have anyone to represent me, I found myself in a situation where I might miss the baptism of our newest family member at my church. I made the decision to take the person I support to this very important family event, which I did not expect.

That same month, I missed attending one of the Easter services as a key member of the worship team, as I once again chose Brian's support over my own personal needs. A colleague from my company also missed the funeral of a family member due to lack of weekend insurance. These incidents keep happening, but the DSPs keep going.

Governor Josh Shapiro's recent efforts to increase DSP wages and provide additional funding to end the emergency waiting list offer a glimmer of hope. But this is just the beginning. Sustainable change requires ongoing Commitment and investment to ensure DSPs are valued and fairly compensated for their important work.

As Pennsylvanians, we have a moral obligation to stand up for those who cannot always stand up for themselves. By supporting these initiatives and calling for sustained investment in disability services, we can pave the way for a better future for people with disabilities and the dedicated professionals who care for them.

Finally, I remember a recent encounter with Victor, a visitor from Zambia, whose words touched me deeply. On one of my daily trips with Brian we met Victor. Brian immediately hugged and hugged Victor, as he often does with the people he likes and meets.

Victor proclaimed, “You protect this man and I respect you,” he said, honoring the bond between Brian and me. It's time for Pennsylvania to protect its heroes – the DSPs who work tirelessly to support people like Brian and make sure they receive the care and support they deserve.

Let us join hands and raise our voices to make Pennsylvania a beacon of inclusivity, justice and compassion for people with disabilities and their dedicated caregivers. We can and must build a future in which everyone, regardless of their abilities, is valued, respected and empowered to thrive.

Related: Opinion: After years of advocacy, families of the disabled are hopeful

  • David Seitz has worked in the field of intellectual disability support for nearly 45 years, most recently as a Direct Support Professional with InVision Human Services based in Wexford and Reading, PA. He also worked professionally as an actor for almost the entire time. Both activities resulted in him being younger than his 65 years. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of Virginia and a master's degree from United Theological Seminary.

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