Leo’s Letter: The Time is Now: Our Workforce Crisis

A substantial investment in the workforce is needed across human services today, and for those of us worried about persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities, it cannot come too soon.

On Tuesday night, we viewed the documentary Invaluable: The Unrecognized Profession of Direct Support, which documented the crisis across the nation. How could we have allowed it to get this bad?

At the end of the movie, viewers were left feeling either more energized to act, or more depressed about the current state. Even Forbes has published twice on the topic since April 2018.

PCID Workforce Paper 2017, p. 16

In Massachusetts, our high cost of living is driving staff out of the workforce. Over the past few months, I’ve heard of 30% and higher vacancy rates. In one recent conversation, when I said that staff vacancies meant that people are being assisted by relief staff who don’t know them, a manage responded, “What relief staff?”

Here, we know the solution is at the least three-fold.

First: people’s attitudes about government benefits need to change if we are to avoid tragic results. In one Forbes article, they forecast people realizing government benefits are critical: “businesses are realigning to a position that it is in fact better to have government be responsible for services” other than education. A revenue solution (taxes) at federal level is #1.

Second: the next priority will be to forge a coordinated recruitment drive [at least] in our disability services space.

Third: the last priority is innovation by increasing person-centered funding allocations and wrap-around supports, including clinical teams for consultation.

These solutions can be enhanced by bridging the technological divide in service delivery and communication advancements for those whose voice is not always clearly heard. This year, a boost of $2 an hour while addressing compression for staff with seniority and supervisors will be a start.

Our beginnings may be messy, but we can have an impact by advocating together!


  1. Leo; keep it up! we all have to be on the “same page” (ARC, MCHSP, ADDP, etc..) I have said it before and I will say it again: Whoever receives state dollars to provide critical services for human lives should compensate their staff at least the same amount that the state pays is own employees with the same job descriptions ! It’s not a matter of “there is no money” it boils down to priorities! Caring for human lives is more important than fixing the Red Line!!!!

  2. The increase in salaries is a good start. Our state governments also need to look at offering additional incentives that will help to lower the cost of living for human services professionals. Initiatives such as lowering the time frame for loan forgiveness, providing free parking permits or public transportation cards and increasing professional development options for state schools are all within reach. Each can increase the strength of a DSPs dollar. Rather than focusing on just increasing the salaries we also need to focus on increasing their well-being. The documentary “Invaluable” outlined it best – 1 in 5 DSPs live on the poverty line and, even though well intentioned at start, the system was designed this way. Together we created this issue and together we can get ourselves out.

  3. Yes, yes, yes! If I had to list all it takes to create a day of dignity for my daughter, from personal care (including always having a soft lotion-treated tissue with me for the runny nose) hand over hand washing her hands, toileting, changing pads, wiping (until clean!!) helping her bathe washing her hair, conditioner, her entire body (no skipping parts) then styling her hair afterwards (not a cooperative event)! Chosing her clothes getting her dressed-Including pulling skin right compression stocking on while she kicks you… brushing her teeth… and yea almost never flossing-she will just bite you. Trying to get her to spit out the mouthwash Not swallow it! And getting the spit in the sink. An hour or so of swearing, crying and hitting herself. Spoon feeding her breakfast so you can give her meds that are far to many and barely make a dent, and often finding one on the floor an hour later. (How did this one get out of her mouth??? I was right there!!!) get her shoes and coat on with Everything She needs in her backpack wait for transportation. Only to have her sit on porch and and cry, taking off her shoes and coat. Yea… do all of that with joy, humor, patience all the while enduring her favorite Christmas music blasting in the background. Then clean up the tornado left in the aftermath of the morning routine! Ok yea then offer someone minimum wage to do all that! Oh and just for giggles simultaneously get another house mate through their morning routine (with Their own unique needs)
    And that’s just the morning!

    The point is not to pay staff a livable wage. It’s paying a professional wage consistent with the skills needed to perform the job with enthusiasm and dedication!!!

  4. I also saw the film and as a parent of an adult with autism I am worried. What do we do to get moving on this issue? Our families and DCPs deserve better! We need to come together and act!!

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