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REPORT: Better Wages and Benefits Needed to Stabilize Michigan Direct Support Workforce

May 25, 2016

Michigan’s inability to retain a “qualified, competent” workforce of direct support professionals (DSP) must be remedied by, among other measures, immediately improving DSPs’ wages and benefits, a specially convened workgroup concluded.

The formation of the Workgroup on the Direct Support Workforce was requested by the legislature last year to study the recruitment and retention challenges facing the DSP workforce. The Workgroup found large staff vacancies and unanimously recommended that DSPs earn at least two dollars per hour more than the state minimum wage (currently $8.50/hour and rising to $9.25 by 2018).

The average starting wage for Michigan DSPs is just $8.69/hour, and experienced caregivers earn an average of just $9.62, the workgroup reported. Nursing assistants in Michigan, meanwhile, earn an average hourly wage of $13.25.

The Workgroup also said that immediate steps should be taken allowing DSPs to earn paid leave.

“Not a Starter Job”

DSPs provide supports and services to residents who have intellectual and developmental disabilities, mental illnesses, or substance abuse disorders.

In its report, the Workgroup quoted a statement submitted by two experienced DSPs about the critical nature of their job: “This is an important job, not a starter job or a stepping stone job. The people we serve are important people who play an important role in our society.”

The Workgroup’s report lists the many tasks that DSPs are responsible for, adding that the job “can be physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging while also requiring exceptional judgment and skills in supporting another individual to live a full life.”

The Workgroup concludes that DSPs’ non-competitive compensation is “not aligned with the job responsibilities and expectations.” Consequently, agencies and individual employers throughout the state are struggling to fill growing staff vacancies, which are reaching a “disturbing” level, the Workgroup writes.

Full Array of Stakeholders

The 18 members of Workgroup represented a “full array of stakeholders,” PHI Michigan Manager Hollis Turnham said. Turnham, along with former PHI Midwest Director Tameshia Bridges Mansfield, represented PHI in the Workgroup.

Other members of the Workgroup represented people with disabilities, providers, Community Mental Health Services Programs, Pre-Paid Inpatient Health Plans, and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

In addition to higher wages and the introduction of paid leave, the Workgroup offered several other “long range solutions to improve workforce stability.”

These include changing Michigan’s criminal background check procedure to allow for “rehabilitation review,” thereby expanding the pool of people eligible for DSP jobs, and opening the state’s matching services registry to all Medicaid recipients who want to use the self-determination option for supports and services.

— by Matthew Ozga

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