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How Core Services Cut Their DSP Turnover Rate In Half

Submitted By: Susan Arwood, Core Services of Northeast Tennessee

Over the past three years, Core Services of Northeast Tennessee has been on a mission to improve direct support professional (DSP) retention. Through the creation of a DSP Career Ladder, the integration of the NADSP Certification program, the implementation of a DSP Mentorship Program, and more, there have been transformative results not only for the DSP workforce but also our organization as a whole.

“Working at Core Services means being able to make a difference in someone’s life and supporting them to succeed. Our agency is very person-centered and as a DSP, we have to support people take risks and achieve dreams.”

Allen Selby, DSP-III (NADSP Credentialed)

In addition, we applied the same person-centered concepts used with people supported to the direct support professionals (DSPs) of our organization. After eliminating a ‘one size fits all’ approach by designing supports on a person-by-person basis, we came to the realization that happy people resulted in happier staff.

Impact Of The Program

Through these efforts, our DSP turnover rate was cut in half, with our vacancy rate averaging around 4%. This amounted to reducing our overtime rates by 35%. The money saved from these changes was reinvested to raise DSP wages and add benefits like a 401(k). The average wages for DSPs increased from an average of $11/hour three years ago, to now averaging $15.24/hour.

Our initiatives have provided for a more stable and professional DSP workforce. Currently, 22% of DSPs hold some type of professional credentials and that number continues to rise. We also no longer had to advertise for new DSP positions because 75% of the job applicants were referrals from current employees, and as a result, they were a much higher caliber of applicant.

Core Services' DSP Allen stands next to a person he supports, Carl

“The wonderful management team we have makes DSPs feel like the heart of the agency. I love seeing how we have grown as an organization. We are all different. Let’s be different together, showing the world how to be happy and how to have fun doing it.”

Glenda Gonzalez, DSP-III (NADSP Credentialed)

Tied to the success of our DSP workforce programs, people are also achieving their dreams. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, our data shows that 41% of people receiving services were competitively employed. We also found that 22% of people had a reduction in paid supports, by using technology supports. As a result of these changes, people that were involved in the Core Services’ Enabling Technology program were 54% more likely to have outcomes present in their lives.

Core Services’ Action Steps

While not everyone will be on board with widespread shifts, you can use resources such as CQL Accreditation as a roadmap to implementing these necessary changes. Here are the specific actions we took to improve DSP retention.

  • Transformed to a person-centered organization, with a person-centered planning meeting for everyone supported
  • Implemented a DSP Career Ladder using the NADSP Certification program. DSPs could earn an extra .75/hour for each level achieved
  • Created the position of Workforce Development Specialist to support new hires in the first six months of employment, which is the timeframe with the highest turnover rates
  • Established a DSP Mentor Program and started assigning a seasoned DSP as a mentor for all new hires
  • Invested in DSP Certifications beyond NADSP – including CESP and SHIFT
  • Formed a “Core Council,” which is a group of DSPs who meet monthly – without management – to guide agency policies and procedures
  • Created a 30-day, 60-day, 90-day, and 6-month new employee survey and used feedback to drive our onboarding training
  • Developed an electronic ‘My Concern Is’ Survey that employees can use to submit their concerns and suggestions anonymously. Our agency then takes actions based on the survey feedback
  • Increased promotional opportunities for DSPs by becoming an Enabling Technology Transformation Agency and an Employment First Agency

About Core Services of Northeast Tennessee

Core Services of Northeast Tennessee is a non-profit organization supporting people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities in Northeast Tennessee across three counties. They offer a range of services involving supported living, employment, respite, personal assistance, funds management, nursing, and more. Core Services of Northeast Tennessee is licensed by the State of Tennessee Department of Health and Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD).

2021 National DSP Recognition Week

For 2021 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. This is also an opportunity to highlight the programs your organization has developed to strengthen DSPs.

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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.