Direct Support Professionals are Heroes, Too – and Deserve Help

These essential health workers are a lifeline for vulnerable people with developmental disabilities. Congress must extend resources to assist them during the COVID-19 crisis.

Milwaukee – As the U.S. acts with speed and scale to support frontline health worker heroes during the COVID-19 crisis, a key group of heroes is in danger of being left behind.

Direct Support Professionals, also known as DSPs, are health workers who provide essential supports to people with developmental disabilities. They, along with their employers and supporters, are advocating for their inclusion in pending legislation and program implementation.

“Our DSPs are motivated by professionalism and their love for the people they support,” said Mike Thirtle, Ph.D., president and CEO of Bethesda, a leading nonprofit organization employing nearly 2,000 DSPs across the country. “Their work is complex: they administer medications, perform tube feedings when needed and respond to urgent medical situations. They are also working 24/7 in homes with people known or suspected to have COVID-19.”

In addition, DSPs are saving lives by diligently doing the infection control work, maintaining separation where needed, and keeping homes clean and people healthy. Many DSPs are working extra hours to cover shifts lost to sick or unavailable co-workers. They are also helping people with disabilities cope with feeling the loss of beloved family members or friends who can no longer come to visit.

Necessary and costly actions

Bethesda has supported DSPs as much as possible through emergency actions that are both necessary and costly. Like hospitals, Bethesda has needed to purchase personal protective equipment for frontline teams. Critical staffing needs have necessarily led to significant labor cost increases. These emergency costs will continue until this pandemic abates.

To remedy the situation, Bethesda is strongly recommending that:

  • Congress pass the proposed “Heroes Bill” legislation that helps frontline health workers and, critically, include DSP health workers in its scope;
  • Congress expand the CARES Act Paycheck Protection Program to include help for all not-for-profit organizations that provide community-level supports for the most vulnerable people, like those with developmental disabilities; and
  • Finally, when reliable, widespread and rapid-cycle testing is made available, DSPs and people with developmental disabilities should be given some priority, as knowing those infected and those with immunity would empower organizations like Bethesda to best protect people with developmental disabilities, who are inherently at greater risk for the ravages of severe COVID-19.

“The government’s temporary measures can make all the difference for people with developmental disabilities and the people who love them,” Thirtle said. “As we work through this crisis together as a nation, I urge you to please remember the six million Americans with developmental disabilities and their families, the organizations that help them, and the brave DSPs who are there for them every day.”

Bethesda urges everyone to contact their Congressional representatives on behalf of DSPs. To do so, visit the Bethesda Advocacy Center by using this link:


About AbleLight

AbleLight is a national leader in pioneering life-changing services that empower people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to thrive. Founded in 1904 in Wisconsin as a Christian mission, AbleLight promotes independence and inclusion across the U.S. through comprehensive and individualized supports that include housing, employment, spiritual life and much more. For details, go to, like our Facebook page and follow us on LinkedIn.