Note about the Statewide Business Advisory Council Forum held on December 8th, 2017:

Not one hand remained down…

when I asked at last week’s Statewide Business Advisory Council forum on
Engaging, Motivating and Retaining Direct Service Workers…

who felt grateful for a direct service worker’s efforts, whether with a family member, program participant and/or your particular program or organization!

“Direct service is the backbone of our organization,” stated Northern Rivers Executive Director Bill Gettman.  “We can’t automate this work.  We need direct service workers to produce positive impact!”

“We look for every opportunity to demonstrate that we value our direct service workers,”  Arc of Ulster-Greene Executive Director John McHugh explained.   And we did indeed learn about strategies used by each organization.  “Support, support, support…I ask ‘Do you have the tools to do your job?  If not, we’ll get them for you.’” (Peter Campbell, Day Services Manager, The Arc, Ulster-Greene)  “I will roll up my sleeves/take on a caseload to fill the gaps.” (Susan Cody, Residential Division Director, MHA, Columbia-Greene)    “We work as a team…have a weekly meeting in which we cover every consumer…I’m in it with them!” (Tammy Hall, Residential Division Coordinator, MHA, Columbia-Greene)  Director of Staff Development Olivia Lo and Staff Development Specialist Rachel Jacob discussed the Direct Service Professional (DSP) and frontline supervisory trainings offered to staff at the Arc of Ulster-Greene.  DSP Michelle Murphy and soon-to be training graduate shared, “It is affirming to be offered this training and viewed as a professional!”

Yet, direct service worker turnover hovers between 30 and 70%.  “We are in a crisis situation,”  NADSP (National Alliance for Direct Service Professionals) Executive Director Joseph  Macbeth told us bluntly.  “We cannot meet the need for direct service workers, which continues to grow.”

“I came into this field to make a difference in people’s lives,” Michelle elaborated.  “I just hope that the compensation for DSP’s will at some point be adjusted, so that I can afford to stay in the field.” 

It’s hard not to be impressed with both the maturity with which RSS Case Coordinator Tiffany Truesell approaches her job and the skill level required.  Medication management – assisting/empowering individuals to take steps towards greater independence to administer their medication – is indeed complex….and requires a high degree of organizational, cognitive, communications, coaching and judgement skills.  There may be up to three medication fills per day per individual.  Tiffany’s job is to empower each consumer to learn and understand their medication needs and build the confidence to ultimately order/refill their own medication.

“I have separate calendars for each consumer,” Tiffany explained.  “My role is to assist each person to manage all their appointments and to then advocate if necessary.  A person may feel the need to go to a cardiologist, but it gets written off as anxiety.  Or an individual’s medication is changed during a hospital stay and is about to be discharged.”

Tiffany also works with each person to support their efforts in reaching community integration, socialization, symptom management, self-advocacy and daily living skill goals.  On top of these responsibilities, all direct service workers on Tiffany’s team are expected to be on-call 24/7 for one or two consecutive weeks (depending on call-in’s).

“So why aren’t there career paths, promotion opportunities and a living wage for the direct service worker,” you might ask.  Certainly the demand is there.  Certainly the required skill levels are there.

“We should continue this discussion!” was a comment written on many of the evaluations.  Thank you to all the dedicated professionals who attended our forum and participated in this one!  Thank you to our panelists representing Northern Rivers Child and Family Services, the MHA of Columbia-Greene and The Arc of Ulster-Greene, who shared their knowledge and passion with all of us!

Get involved!  Contact MHANYS CEO Glenn Liebman,, if you are interested in advocating for a living wage and growth opportunities for direct service workers (as they advocate for individuals with serious, persistent mental illness).


And follow #bFair2DirectCare, the voice of a campaign for 130,000 New Yorkers with intellectual/developmental disabilities and nearly 100,000 Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) who care for them. Or contact Joseph Macbeth (NADSP Executive Director).

– Marsha Lazarus, MBA, Director of Workforce Development


SBAC forums are part of MHANYS’ Consumer & Business Outreach Program (CBOP) that is sponsored by the  New York State Office of Mental Health. To learn more visit our Programs & Projects page. 

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