The unprecedented challenges of this global pandemic have created a level of adversity not seen in modern times. It has redefined the way we work and the way we live our lives. And it has shined the spotlight on many of the essential frontline workers - medical professionals, grocery store employees, police, and first responders.

Another group of professionals to whom many in the world of disability services owe thanks is Direct Support Professionals (DSP). DSPs work in group homes and supervised apartments to provide 24/7 care to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). DSPs ensure safety and essential care for individuals with I/DD and help in all aspects of daily living such as preparing meals, hygiene, and medication administration. DSPs also manage some individuals with complex medical needs, performing acts that equate to a person’s lifeline.
 
 
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Under ordinary circumstances, this work is demanding. We can all agree these are not ordinary times.  To make matters worse, the new reality of social distancing and stay at home orders have halted visitations, community outings, job training, and employment. The majority of the tools that DSPs typically use to encourage learning and increase skill development have been extinguished overnight.  Almost every method to provide support now has to be re-engineered and must be provided solely by a DSP, taking individualized healthcare to a new level.
 

The global health crisis has shined a light on the critical role of DSP’s. It is imperative that we all recognize all DSPs as the essential healthcare workers they are. They deserve our praise every day; and most especially during this pandemic. We have always known that the work of DSPs is indispensable.  And there has always been little fanfare. Until now. 
 
These dedicated professionals are putting their own needs aside to ensure for the safety of the individuals entrusted to their care. While this line of work has always been admirable – in today’s reality it is heroic. There is a significant shortage and difficulty with procuring Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for DSPs.

 
While we all adjust to our new paradigm, we are reminded that workers on the front lines were all too often taken for granted. It is self-evident that there will be many lessons to be learned from this global challenge. Hopefully, we will have a new found appreciation for the value of DSPs and the way they serve and support many of society’s most vulnerable citizens.
 
Please join me in recognizing and thanking the DSPs across our state – and around the county – for what they are doing during this global health emergency. Never before, has the system asked more of our DSPs and they are going far beyond to answer that call. They truly are everyday heroes.
 
Note: Shawn M. McInerney is a resident of Red Bank, NJ and the President and CEO of the Midland Organization. Midland operates group homes for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, Employment, and Day Habilitation programs. Midland also operates a School for children with multiple disabilities in North Branch, NJ in Somerset County, which will celebrate 60 years of service this summer. To learn more, visit www.midlandnj.org.