Opinion by Patricia Kennedy: Service providers need more state support

Opinion by Patricia Kennedy
Service providers need more state support

Springbrook, the organization I am proud to lead, has always found strength by looking to our mission and values. We are a nonprofit dedicated to supporting the most vulnerable people in our society.
That mission hasn’t changed because we face a pandemic. We have learned on the fly, and with clarity, we continue to navigate this storm. Springbrook’s direct support professionals, who do the hand-to-hand work of supporting residents, students, and participants, do so with a dedication that is beyond what words can describe. Our DSPs are essential in every conceivable way, and we have taken pains to show them and tell them how much we value their time, their talent, and their work.

Now, we need your help!

Today we face not just a pandemic, but a labor crisis. The DSP vacancy rate in New York has ballooned in five years from 9.3% to 25% — mainly because of NYS’s broken funding structures, which keep DSP wages low.

Many DSPs stay in their positions because they work two or three jobs and 80 hours a week to have enough income to support their families. Others, because of low wages, need government subsidies such as SNAP benefits. DSP wages are so low, and their accountability so high, therefore far too often good people have no choice but to leave a highly skilled profession they love.

When COVID hit, Springbrook committed to zero layoffs and we met that challenge. We committed to protecting the health and safety of our employees. We continue to meet that challenge. In addition, years of intelligent fiscal decisions meant we could invest in our employees. To be exact, we have invested nearly $2 million in the form of incentive payments throughout the pandemic. And, in January and July 2021, we raised the wage for all new and current DSPs.

Today, Springbrook DSPs earn between $15 and $20 per hour. I want to be clear, as much as I wish we had the power to raise wages even higher, like all NYS I/DD service providers, we exist in a broken system.

NYS holds vast power over the range of wages we can feasibly pay. And if NYS does increase DSP wages, they tend to do so by cutting funding to the very service providers who employ DSPs.

As a result, Springbrook and other I/DD service providers are in a constant tug-of-war to get our employees the compensation they deserve.

Springbrook has always fought for fair wages for DSPs. I am proud Springbrook has offered cost-of-living increases consistently for more than 10 years. Yet, the times we live in have made it even more apparent the people we employ, and hope to engage in the future, need more. We are struggling to fill positions right now, like all employers.

The answers to that challenge are within our community, and we don’t have all of them. Springbrook’s goal is to continue to push wages up for our employees, regardless of the fiscal climate we find ourselves facing. Our goal is to offer benefits that make a real difference in people’s lives — affordable health insurance, opportunities for advancement and education, generous time off. Our goal is to value the people who make our organization what it is. We need help to meet our goals.

We need you to tell New York it is time to fix the system. It is time to get DSPs what they deserve. Write your representative today! And if you know or meet a DSP, take a moment to give them thanks.

Patricia Kennedy is the chief executive officer of Springbrook, a nonprofit in the town of Milford that provides support and services to people with developmental disabilities.

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