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With staff shortages here to stay, technology has never been more important.

Building capacity during the staffing crisis

It’s been going on for years now. The crisis-level staffing shortage plaguing providers of intellectual and developmental disability (I/DD) services is here to stay.

If you are feeling the consequences of this crisis, you are not alone. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, 77% of I/DD providers are turning away new referrals, and 81% find it challenging to maintain their standard of care. Direct support workers (DSP) are in short supply, and almost half of DSPs turn over within a year.

Why DSPs are in short supply

COVID-19 has presented a whole new challenge for the direct support workforce. Over 90% of DSPs are women, and many have grappled with increasingly scarce childcare access during the pandemic. Then there are the dramatically low wages, which force the majority of DSPs to take on a second job just to make ends meet.

The high turnover rate causes burnout for existing DSPs tasked with the additional workload and thousands of dollars per year for employers who must replace staff. Many would look at this crisis and ask, why not just give DSPs a higher wage? The issue is that most of their salaries come from government funding, meaning that the market does not determine an increase in wages. I/DD providers rely on the government’s funds to pay staff, and funding for staff wages hasn’t changed in 10 years.

Addressing the Crisis

Wages are just one piece of the puzzle. Even with a dramatic increase in wages, it’s unlikely that providers of I/DD services would be able to find enough DSPs to address the current job gaps.

“Even if the state magically had a billion dollars a year more to fund I/DD services, we won’t magically have 80,000 more DSPs to come in and provide the services… We have to be different in the way we provide services.” - Brain Hart, Chief Strategy Officer, LADD Inc.

The direct support professional crisis has left many providers at a loss for how to proceed. This is where technology comes in.

Here are two notable examples of States and Providers integrating technology into their service model to adapt and overcome staffing challenges.

  • New York has allowed the use of out-of-state telehealth providers to fill the gap left by the staffing crisis (OPEN MINDS).

  • LADD Smart Living in Ohio is piloting smart homes to shift staffing models in care. It’s a fascinating project you should read up on.

As daunting as it feels to address the staffing crisis with technology, it’s already happening. Some state I/DD programs have even adopted a “Technology First” approach, which means that I/DD providers are pushed to look to new technology for solutions before relying on traditional staffing models.

There are concerns around the use of technology in I/DD services. However, the push to use technology to enhance I/DD services is not an effort to automate the roles of direct support professionals. Quality care relies on DSPs who can execute support plans and build positive relationships with the people they support.

The goal of technology is to reduce the need for DSPs to spend time on repetitive tasks and manual functions and increase their ability to foster independence and wellbeing for the people they support.

Do you have technology success stories we’ve missed? Let us know, and we will add them to this article!


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