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‘Buddies’ Help Improve DSP Retention At Mountain Lake Services

Submitted By: Harold K. Sammis, Mountain Lake Services

In an effort to retain staff while promoting teamwork and leadership, Mountain Lake Services developed our Buddy Program. The program’s goal is to ensure that all new Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) have someone to talk to and receive advice and guidance from, during those first fragile weeks and months of learning a new and multi-tiered career. This program would not have been possible without the full support of our administration and Executive Director.

“My Buddy has been very helpful by checking in with me to see how I was doing and what I needed.”

Jusinda, (new employee) Direct Support Professional, Mountain Lake Services

Through this program, we aim to ensure new Direct Support Professionals have a better understanding of their workplace systems, processes, and culture. New employees are connected with dynamic, veteran Direct Support Professionals who go through a rigorous selection process and training. This program then goes above and beyond training, providing the new employee with a support network that ensures their continued success throughout their first year of employment. It lays the building blocks for a successful career as a Direct Support Professional.

Impact Of The Program

As a whole, we have experienced a significant increase in retention between the inception of the program and Quarter 2 of 2022. Between 2019 and 2022, we have had employee retention rates as a whole grow from 67% in 2019, to 90% as of July 2022. For those who are participating in the program within their first year of employment, we have seen an equal retention rate of 90%, in comparison to our 2019 first year retention rate of 64%.

DSPs – whether they are Buddies or new employees – seem to be very happy with the program. New employees have indicated on their evaluations that they enjoy their jobs and feel supported by their Buddies.

“My Buddy has been super helpful. If I ever have a question she’s been right there. She made me feel right at home.”

Dominic, (new employee) Direct Support Professional, Mountain Lake Services

The Buddies have also experienced a positive impact as a result of the program, noting higher confidence and more satisfaction with their jobs. They have also shared that the program has helped them develop into better Direct Support Professionals, along with gaining the skills for advancement in their careers.

“I was surprised how fast I was able to build connections with each new employee, and the impact we have on them.”

Heather, (Buddy) Direct Support Professional, Mountain Lake Services

Steps To Implement A Similar DSP Program

Mountain Lake Services went through the following the steps for ensuring the success of its Buddy Program. Other organizations can use these steps as a guide for developing a similar program for their Direct Support Professionals.

  1. Developed a structure for the Buddy Program through Mountain Lake Services’ Recruitment and Retention Committee.
  2. Formed a sub-committee specifically to build the foundation of the Buddy Program.
  3. The Buddy Program Committee worked tirelessly for months to establish a framework consisting of key elements that help to retain new employees.
  4. Created criteria for the selection process including a supervisor recommendation, a copy of the employee’s most recent evaluation, and an evaluation matrix filled out by the employee’s program director.
  5. Developed a compensation plan that includes two payments – one at six months, the other at one year – for each milestone the Buddy’s new employee reaches.
  6. A committee was formed to interview those who applied for the Buddy Program. Each interview consists of at least two interviewers, including people from various parts of our company.
  7. Once selected, a Buddy goes through a training process developed by the committee and staff education departments.
  8. After training has been completed, the DSP Buddy is ready to be paired with a new employee.
  9. Provided quarterly training and support for Buddies through the staff education department.
  10. Created numerous data analysis tools to show the success of the program and to constantly look at methods of improvement.
  11. Modified evaluation forms and process over time, based on the evaluations and developing needs of the program.
  12. Tracked real-time data for each Buddy and new employee, and chart their progress.
  13. Developed tools to assess the effectiveness of the program by comparing retention data from before the Buddy Program was established, to current data now that the program has been implemented.
  14. Continually seek out innovation to develop an increasingly successful program.

Challenges You May Encounter

Challenges that we have faced included working through the initial startup, developing an appropriate incentive program, and also creating data analysis tools to measure the effectiveness of the program and assess how to continue to develop it. We conquered all of these hurdles through teamwork, dedicated committee members of various backgrounds, and building tools to gauge what changes we needed to make the program more successful.

About Mountain Lake Services

Mountain Lake Services, a chapter of The Arc New York, provides a wide range of services to meet the individualized needs of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) in Essex County, New York and neighboring counties. Its origins began in 1967, when 15 North Country citizens were concerned about the lack of supports for people with disabilities. They decided to form a committee to address these needs, continuing with the opening of Essex Industries and local group homes in 1974. Today, Mountain Lake Services offers a variety of programs including residential services, home-based supports, employment services, and more.

Organizational logo for Mountain Lake Services

Mountain Lakes Services’ mission is to partner with people of all abilities to live their very best lives. Its vision is to be an inspirational model for advancing people’s journey through excellence, innovation, and connections. Mountain Lake Services is one of Essex County’s largest employers, with Essex County being the second largest county in New York State.

2022 National DSP Recognition Week

For 2022 National DSP Recognition Week, CQL and NADSP are sharing specific organization-wide initiatives that lift up and bolster direct support professionals (DSPs) throughout the entire year. These include significant, long-lasting, and meaningful actions that have far-reaching effects on DSPs. By sharing these initiatives, other human service providers can both learn about and replicate these efforts to build up the DSP workforce.

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Since 1969, CQL | The Council on Quality and Leadership has been a leader in working with human service organizations and systems to continuously define, measure, and improve quality of life and quality of services for youth, adults, and older adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and psychiatric disabilities. CQL offers accreditation, training, certification, research, and consultation services to agencies that share our vision of dignity, opportunity, and community for all people.