Nishna Productions, Inc., employs around 190 staff members; approximately 88 percent of them are Direct Support Professionals. By definition, a Direct Support Professional (DSP) is someone who works directly with people who have intellectual or developmental disabilities.
DSPs aim to assist people in realizing their full potential. They help people become integrated and engaged in their community. They might provide assistance with ADLs, or the activities of daily living, such as showering, bathing, toileting or feeding, with lower-functioning individuals. With higher-functioning individuals, they might teach daily living skills, such as cooking, cleaning and shopping, or provide job readiness training.
At NPI, our Direct Support Professionals fill several roles. They include Supported Community Living Specialists (SCLS), who are responsible to teach, train, and assist individuals in developing the skills necessary to be as independent as possible when performing activities of daily living. SCLS are at the heart of everything we do, working around the clock. They deal with the behaviors, the struggles and the everyday challenges of those we serve. They also care for our individuals like they are family, creating innovative solutions to their issues and celebrating their successes. They drive our individuals to appointments, administer medication, help them make friends and assist them in interacting with community members.
Another DSP role is that of a Day Hab Instructor. These staff members provide stimulating curriculum, activities and outings to individuals that attend our day services, Monday through Friday.
DSP also includes Employment Services staff. These staff help individuals prepare for, find, and maintain successful employment at a job in the community. This may include job skill training, discovery, career exploration, job shadows, workplace readiness assessments and job coaching. Each individual receives services tailored to his or her specific needs and interests.
Being a DSP does not require any official certifications. NPI provides all the training necessary for DSPs. The flip side is that DSP is NOT recognized with a classified job code under the Department of Labor, unlike its sister profession, CNA This creates a problem in getting them the recognition and wages they deserve and makes it difficult to talk to government people about jobs they do not understand.
Direct Support Professional Recognition Week was in September and was a great opportunity to honor the dedicated and innovative direct support workforce that is the heart and soul of supports for people with disabilities. At NPI, our DSP staff received a small token of appreciation each day during DSP Recognition Week, although goldfish crackers and candy will never be an adequate thank you for ALL that they do.
We also took some time to collect a few of their unique experiences. I’ve decided to share two of them with you here. First, we’ll read Jen’s perspective. Jen has been working for NPI for 4 years. For many years prior to providing services in one of our waiver homes, Jen worked as a DSP in an institution. Here’s what she had to say about the difference in those care situations:
"I have been asked several times by different people what is a waiver home and what is the difference between a waiver home and an institution? A waiver home is more like a home that you are I would live in. Waiver services are where people with intellectual disabilities live in houses or apartments just as you or I would. Consumers with NPI do have staff and staff are available to assist consumers when needed. Waiver homes are usually staffed 24 hours, 7 days a week depending on their independent living skills. If needed by a consumer, Home Heath is a service that provides in-home nursing skills is available if a consumer should need help with medical needs. Consumers are taken by staff to their routine medical appointments.
I have been asked, 'Have you noticed a difference from consumers that have moved from an institutional setting to a waiver home?' I can say that for the last 4 years in waiver, 11 years in an institution, 15 years total with the consumers I currently assist, that I see huge strides with each consumer. They are offered more one-on-one time which gives them the opportunity to express their likes and desires. And their vocabulary has grown! We, as direct support staff, have been able to give them home-cooked meals, complete daily tasks like banking, shopping for groceries and household items, dining out, paying for the tab and paying bills. We’ve also attended special events, like concerts, Price is Right road tour, the circus, going the movies, and bowling. Most importantly, they are offered choices of different activities. There has been so many 'first time' activities that we ourselves take advantage of daily and don’t think twice about it that our consumers had never experienced. I am not saying that some of these activities aren’t done in an institution because some of them have been done. Some of our consumers on are not on an “institutional” schedule and can go about their day as they please. Staff are here to assist the consumers with their daily life skills and to help the consumer with achieving their goals. I feel that is one of the main differences between Institutional and waiver homes."
Another perspective comes from Mary, a DSP with 35 years’ experience at NPI.
"I have been working at Nishna Productions since January of 1985. My first job at Nishna Productions was being an Assistant Activity Coordinator. I have done many different jobs in the agency since that time. I have worked direct care in the group homes, then I was asked to be a supervisor at the group home. After that, I transferred to working as a Program Instructor so that I was able to be at home at night to raise my kids. From there, I transferred to the Vocational Department as a vocational trainer and now Vocational Lead Staff. I now help oversee the operations of the Vocational Center, including the Redemption Center, work contracts, laundry and cleaning enclaves. One of the main reasons I have stayed at NPI is that we are a company that is always looking ahead to improve and increase our services to offer as many options as possible to the individuals we serve. Also, the administration believes in encouraging staff to advance or change departments if you feel you would be of benefit in a different area. It is a rewarding job working with people who like to learn work and life skills and see them become more independent and successful from helping them learn the skills.
One of the biggest changes I have seen in my time here is the growth of the agency and that the individuals we work with have more say in their treatment plans. They tell us what they want to work on and we put a plan in place to help them achieve what they want to learn. Technology has changed the way we document when we work with individuals. Everything used to be handwritten in books. Now it is secured through the computer. Also, the individuals we work with seem to relate to the computer more. There is a lot of instructional videos that can be watched online applications to fill out, etc. Even the day habilitation programs use technology for games, etc. I feel conditions have improved a great deal for persons with disabilities. I feel that businesses are more open to giving persons with disabilities an opportunity at jobs. They are realizing they have good work attendance, enjoy doing the jobs, and take pride in their work.
If you’ve never been to our facilities, I encourage you to ask for a tour to see what we are about. We always like to show off our agency and let people know what services we offer."
At NPI, we are very proud of our DSP staff. We know they truly care about the people they serve because it shows in everything they do. Jen and Mary are just two examples of the many stories I could share that illustrate how the DSP staff here at NPI truly does go above and beyond for those we serve. DSPs are the most important people we employ.