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Improving Recruitment, Retention And Culture In Licking County, Ohio

Submitted By: Anna Jeffries, Licking County Board of Developmental Disabilities

When the Licking County Board of Developmental Disabilities (LCBDD) started its DSP Employment Connections program in 2018, many local provider agencies had turnover rates of more than 68 percent.

“Many providers were losing staff faster than they could hire new DSPs,” said Angie Finck, LCBDD’s Director of Provider and Transition Supports. “We knew that, as their county board, we had to step up our support.”

A strong DSP workforce is critical to the services and supports people with disabilities in Licking County depend on. Committing county board funding to a program that focused on DSP recruitment was seen as an investment in the future of the local DD system, Finck said.

DSP Employment Connections — the first program of its kind in Ohio — started with a focus on providing administrative support to providers. DSP Eligibility Specialist Manager, Brandi Body, worked with potential DSPs, completing their front-line screenings — including a drug screen and background check — and gathering initial documents before submitting their information to agencies so they could complete their hiring process. While that aspect of the program continues, Body and her team quickly realized more support was needed.

“Without looking at retention and culture, we were truly trying to fill a bottomless glass,” Body said.

Over the past four years, LCBDD has committed significant marketing dollars toward raising awareness about the value of DSPs. Whether it’s a billboard, a video on their YouTube channel, or a radio ad, all materials drive potential applicants to the website

Body spends time recruiting in local high schools and colleges and working with community partners, focused on a target audience of 18-24-year-olds who have a passion for empowering others. Her team also plans and funds training opportunities to help agency providers improve their culture and retention.

“We’ve had to educate our community about what a DSP is while at the same time providing our providers with more tools to capitalize on that awareness,” Body said.

Impact Of The Program

Since the creation of DSP Employment Connections, Licking County providers have seen their turnover decrease by 46% for DSPs hired through the program, at the end of 2021.

The program has brought in more than 500 potential DSPs. With LCBDD taking on some of the administrative tasks related to recruiting, local providers have saved more than $682,197 through 2021.

But beyond the numbers, the program has sparked cultural change at every level at LCBDD.
DSP stories can be found regularly on the agency’s website and social media pages, often with the hashtag “#DSPheroes.” Staff members regularly nominate DSPs to be recognized in the “Shout Outs” section of LCBDD’s newsletters. It’s not unusual for these expressions of gratitude to fill at least an entire page.

“I firmly believe we can’t tell the story of the services and supports that people with developmental disabilities receive, without talking about DSPs,” said Anna Jeffries, Public Information Officer at LCBDD. “They are a critical part of our team.”

The value of strong partnerships with local providers was especially clear during the COVID-19 pandemic. As DSPs worked on the front lines providing essential care, LCBDD staff members stepped up to support them in any way they could — including delivering PPE and cleaning supplies, providing encouragement and offering to cover empty shifts, or take people to the doctor. LCBDD’s Provider Relations team was available 24/7 for providers and assisted with coordinating vaccine clinics, with support from fellow staff members who helped make sure eligible people got to their appointments.

On Dec. 7, 2020 LCBDD Superintendent/CEO Jason Umstot and DSP Eligibility Specialist Manager Brandi Body traveled to multiple agency providers to surprise them with Clorox 360 electrostatic sprayers and cleaning solution. Since it was so close to Christmas, they got into the holiday spirit a bit! Using CARES funding, the county board was able to purchase the sprayers for providers, so they could sanitize their offices and homes easily, after a COVID exposure. Meagan Withrow (pictured right) accepted the sprayer on behalf of Newark Resident Homes. Like many providers, she was surprised but also got emotional. It was a moment that brought much needed smiles during a difficult time while also emphasizing the importance role of providers in Licking County.

LCBDD also hosts an annual DSP awards celebration, which has evolved over the years, based on the changing needs of DSPs as well as COVID precautions. At the 2021 celebration, more than 130 DSPs were nominated for awards and LCBDD staff members volunteered at the event to make sure all DSP nominees had a great time.

“I’m very proud of the fact that LCBDD recognizes the important work and contributions of DSPs,” said Jason Umstot, LCBDD’s Superintendent/CEO. “They are essential to our system and the people we support.”

“DSP Employment Connections has been an absolute blessing for our program, team and participants…With the majority of our time being allocated to the participants, programming and success of those in attendance; vetting quality staff can be a challenge. With the help of DSP Employment Connections, we are now being notified when a potential fit for the program is identified,” said Ken Laney, CEO at SPARK LLC. “DSP Employment Connections not only accounts for our needs and desires but also our program and culture. They identify positive traits, transferable skills and even help with the logistics and finances in regard to screenings. There is a clear recognition of team and the importance of working together rings true. Our success truly rests on the shoulders of one another and DSP Employment Connections is a vital link in the chain.”

Steps To Implement A Similar DSP Program

Although DD systems vary from state to state, a program like DSP Employment Connections —focused on recruitment, retention, and culture — could be beneficial in any area. Some keys to a successful start involve inviting agency providers to the table to truly listen to what they need and how your organization might be able to help.

Jeffries encourages organizations with the ability to do marketing and outreach to come together to establish a common narrative and standard branding language around the DSP career path so there is consistency among all stakeholders. Real photos, videos, and success stories go a long way in truly showing your community the important role DSPs play.

Here are some of the specific steps the Licking County Board of Developmental Disabilities took to start DSP Employment Connections:

  1. Talked to providers about what support they needed.
  2. Utilized an Ohio Association of County Boards of Developmental Disabilities (OACB) Provider Partnership grant to explore options.
  3. When providers indicated burdensome HR processes were a challenge, LCBDD looked at what the agency could legally take on, then created a business plan and strategic goals.
  4. Created the DSP Employment Connections Program in 2018.
  5. Hired a DSP Eligibility Specialist.
  6. Launched
  7. Worked extensively with Blitz Creative to refine the program in 2019.
  8. Expanded the program from 2019 to the present, to focus just as much on retention and culture as on recruiting.

Providers can now choose the supports that they would like to receive from a menu of offerings, based on what works best for them. LCBDD continues to meet with agencies to solicit specific feedback and find out more about their recruiting and retention needs.

“We all must keep in mind that the process we are using is not one-size-fits-all,” Umstot says. “It needs constant revision to be able to meet the current needs of our DSPs.”

“DSP Employment Connections has been instrumental in providing support to our agency and helping us gain DSP candidates who are well prepared for what the job entails. It’s really reduced a lot of our time and financial costs, allowing us to get them in the door and out in the field to provide necessary supports as quickly as possible,” said Regan Eveland, Chief Executive Officer, Center for Disability Services. “Through the program, we’ve gained several employees who have been great and have really made a difference for us and the individuals that we support.”

About The Licking County Board Of Developmental Disabilities

The Licking County Board of Developmental Disabilities proudly supports Licking County residents with developmental disabilities as they discover, pursue, and achieve what is important to them.

It serves more than 2,100 people with disabilities and their families in Licking County, Ohio.

Organizational logo for Licking County Board Of Developmental Disabilities

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.