Direct Support Workers: An Essential Workforce Surviving on Poverty Wages

Against the backdrop of a system already stretched thin, the workforce shortage in long term services and supports has become a crisis within a pandemic, leaving disabled and aging people at risk. Aging and disabled people receiving Medicaid funded Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) are people who otherwise meet the standards to be placed into institutional care. The services and supports provided by direct support workers (DSWs) through home and community based programs are what is keeping people out of institutions. Threats to the security of the workforce of direct support workers are threats to the safety, well-being and dignity of aging and disabled people living in their own homes and communities.

The University of Kansas (KU) Center for Research on Aging and Disability Options (CRADO) is currently conducting a study on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on HCBS in collaboration with the Topeka Independent Living and Resource Center (TILRC). To date, we have conducted 33 in-depth interviews with HCBS consumers, direct support workers, family caregivers, service providers, and community agencies who support HCBS services across the FE (Frail Elderly), PD (Physical Disabilities), BI (Brain Injury) and IDD (Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities) waiver programs in Kansas. This research is ongoing, with additional interviews and a survey component in progress.