CAREGIVERS: ‘The ones who stay have their hearts into it’

Caregivers Josie Mullally, left, and Hannah Piper keep Mesa Developmental Service patient Matthew Duffy moving during his time out of a wheelchair.

Matthew Duffy smiles broadly in appreciation each time Josie Mullally and Hannah Piper hand him an M&M. The longtime client of Mesa Developmental Services doesn’t speak much but has learned recently to say “more” when the small chocolate candies are up for the taking. It’s that kind of progress that can make the day for direct support professionals like Mullally and Piper.

Behind the scenes work of direct support professionals, those who work directly with the developmentally disabled, often goes unnoticed.

The work can be physically and emotionally draining, not to mention that it’s often for low pay, said Marilee Langfitt, director of public relations at Mesa Developmental Services.

“There’s something to be said about feeling good about what you do,” she said. “You have to have a lot of energy. The ones who stay have their hearts into it.”

About 300 employees at Mesa Developmental Services serve about 600 clients. Direct support professionals do the work for developmentally disabled people that normal functioning people do for themselves. That includes all the grooming, dressing, feeding, and every other action normally functioning people generally take for granted. Direct service professionals encourage clients’ development with therapy, taking them on outings, delivering medications, preparing meals, and in general, providing nonstop care and attention.

The workers are honored this week, through Sunday, during National Direct Service Professionals Week.

A nationwide shortage of direct service professionals is expected to increase. About 874,000 direct service professionals were estimated to be working in the nation in 2003, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

By 2020 the agency estimates the demand for direct support professionals will grow to about 1.2 million to care for an estimated 1.4 million people with developmental or intellectual disabilities who receive some form of government-funded support. Increase in need is expected to stem from population booms, increases in life expectancies and aging of family caregivers.

Langfitt said that the work of direct service professionals is something that people either have an affinity for and stick with for years, or quickly move on.

Direct service professional Sherry Sparn works at a group home where Duffy spends the second half of his days. Sparn said she considered the work after she had a grandchild with developmental disabilities who died.

“Everyone has their own reason for working, mine’s a little personal,” she said. “I guess that most people don’t know that these people have amazing personalities.”


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