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Direct service professionals in high demand across Northwest Ohio

Published: Oct. 28, 2021 at 6:53 AM EDT
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - Worker shortages are an issue in many industries, and those companies that work with individuals with developmental disabilities are no different.

It’s forcing some to think outside the box to attract workers. The Wood County Board of Developmental Disabilities recently launched a $75,000 campaign to recruit more direct service professionals, workers who go into people’s homes to provide assistance.

According to The Ability Center, DSPs are vital to creating independent living situations for the thousands of people in the area living with disabilities. Without them, many people would be forced to live in care facilities, causing those individuals to lose much of their independence.

“I’m paralyzed from the shoulders down, so not having hand function or arm function leaves me pretty much dependent on everyone else to do things for me,” said Jeremy Bigelow, who receives DSP services.

Bigelow receives DSP service 12 hours per day, coming into his home to help him with daily functions.

So now, the Board of Developmental Disabilities is hanging billboards, going to job fairs, and placing Facebook ads. They’re also providing financial incentives, such as a $1,000 scholarship to DSPs who are college students and $100 bonuses to DSPs who recruit others.

“Wood County is not the only place where the direct support professional worker crisis is a problem,” Brent Baer, superintendent of the Wood County Board of Developmental Disabilities. “Any of the neighboring counties, any county in Ohio is experiencing a workforce shortage.”

Currently, Wood County has more than 600 DSPs, but it needs an additional 200-300 to be fully staffed.

The lack of DSPs is one of the biggest complaints received at The Ability Center.

According to the Ability Center, the DSP shortage has a lot to do with wages -- the median wage for a DSP in Ohio is $12.10. Most make multiple calls per day to different homes, and they’re not compensated for gas.

“Without a recruitment plan and a real living wage and without benefits, and retirement, we’re just not going to be able to compete with fast food places, places like Subway, that often pay more, and provide benefits,” said Katie Thomas, director of advocacy at The Ability Center.

The wages are set along with Medicaid prices, meaning the wages are decided in Columbus, tying the hands of many locals who would like to pay more.

The Ability Center, along with many other partners, sent a letter in August to lawmakers in Columbus who have the ability to make changes. So far, the letter has received no response.

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