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Citizens Makes Strides Addressing DSP Staffing Crisis

Across New York State, a profound staffing crisis is underway with 1 in 5 DSP positions vacant and retention rates plummeting. In response, Citizens Options Unlimited is taking a leadership role leveraging statewide and local partnerships to strengthen the direct care workforce.

By the end of the month, Citizens Options Unlimited is expected to have 18 DSPs complete professional development training through the E-badge Academy Credentialing Program of The National Association of Direct Support Professionals (NADSP).

Citizens was one of 17 agencies chosen by NADSP, this fall, to provide approximately 2,500 direct support workers with training. Due to a grant from New York State’s Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD), affiliated agencies will not pay associated costs for credentialing over the next three years.

NADSP credentialing is available at three levels: DSP-I, DSP-II, AND DSP-III. Tiered bonuses accompany each completed level of certification, with Citizens offering an hourly wage increase to those who complete the DSP-III credentialing. The E-Badge program aims to improve workforce retention rates and overall competency of DSPs and frontline supervisors, according to the OPWDD.

“This will not only support our family of organizations to increase recruitment and retention efforts but also make a broader systemic impact on human services,” Laura Franzen, Human Resources Assistant Director for Employee Services, said.

While engaging our current workforce in professional development, Citizens also remains focused on the future. Citizens is currently working with the OPWDD and statewide partners to develop The DSP Pathways Long Island Project and engage educational institutions across Long Island, such as the State Universities of New York (SUNY), BOCES, community colleges, and high schools.

The project is funded by Workforce Development Grants from OPWDD, that are allocated from ARPA funds. The OPWDD is developing SUNY partnerships as well as a standardized Career and Technical Education DSP curriculum for high school students.

“The long-term objective is to elevate direct support personnel in their profession by affording certifications and college credits to further validate our industry and its important work,” Bridget Cariello, Assistant Director of Project Development, said. For a little over three years, Laura Franzen and Bridget Cariello have been the agency leads on the development and coordination of The DSP Pathways Long Island Project.

Through The DSP Pathways Long Island Project, Citizens hopes to strengthen and develop career pathways for DSPs by creating a pipeline for students to become aware of direct care opportunities, join the field, and pursue DSP certifications.

The success of Citizens’ initiatives was highlighted at the April 19th NY Alliance for Inclusion & Innovation Annual Conference where, with over 80 state provider agencies in attendance, Citizens and partner agency AHRC Nassau were the only provider agencies asked to co-present a panel at the event. This opportunity aligned with the agencies’ commitment to partnering with and mentoring other state providers to expand the pipeline.

As the statewide staffing crisis continues, this type of innovative thinking and new strategies are critical to proactively planning ahead. Citizens Options Unlimited and AHRC Nassau eagerly await final steps before announcing the official school pipeline program, which is expected to launch by September 2023.

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