In thinking back on 9/11/01 I remember where I was, what I was doing and the individuals I was with. I remember the shock on the faces of employees as we watched the second building be hit and all of us being confused about what was happening. After an hour of watching the coverage, we closed our office to allow employees to go home to be with loved ones not knowing what the next day would bring for us all. It seems just like yesterday the world as we knew it was on a different path. Now many years later, I still take time on 9/11 to reflect on what happened that day, to think of those I was with, and more than anything to think of the lives lost on that day.
Many years later, we are now fighting a different fight on 9/11/2020. A fight in which nearly 200,000 Americans have died and close to 6.4 million have been diagnosed with COVID-19 during a pandemic of epic proportions. Millions of Americans have lost jobs and have filed unemployment claims. Businesses across the country have collapsed and countless providers of services for individuals with developmental disabilities have struggled to stay afloat in what is already a considerably underfunded industry.
What makes America strong is its passion and its resiliency. On 9/11/01 I spoke with many Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) for my employer at the time who were providing direct support services to individuals with disabilities. On that day, they chose to stay with those they served because they are their extended family members. Even in the wake of national tragedy, services still had to be provided to our most vulnerable population and on 9/11/20, we still find DSPs across the country going to work each and every day in the face of an international pandemic with the continued willingness to serve those they care for.
In my 20-year career with a direct service provider, I worked many shifts helping direct support professionals provide services to individuals with developmental disabilities and behavioral health conditions. They are some of the most compassionate and resilient Americans that I have ever met. They often sacrifice their well-being to improve the lives of those they serve in order for them to live as independent of a life as possible. During service delivery, I have been slapped, punched, kicked, spit on, and called every name imaginable. I have had my life threatened and have had to remove from possession razorblades, screwdrivers, lead pipes, baseball bats, and numerous other objects that were being swung at myself or others in an attempt to do harm. Like every DSP I could have walked away from risk and adversity but chose to stick it out in what turned out to be a lengthy career with an amazing service provider.
I am now the President/COO of the leading healthcare real estate provider in the country for providers of services for individuals with disabilities. I no longer worry about having to help cover a shift or being hit or take objects away from individuals. What I worry about is the workforce in this industry that I now support in a different way. While passionate and resilient, providers across are struggling during the pandemic. As I continue to speak to providers across the country there is one thing in common in their response to our current crisis, they would be lost without there DSPs. They are what make their company run. They are who provide the direct service delivery and they are the ones that during a national crisis that don’t hesitate to rise up and take care of those they serve while making so much less in pay than they truly deserve.
As we all reflect on 9/11, we should never forget the events of that day and its impact on us and those who lost their life. We should also take time to reflect on those that have made a difference in our lives. I choose to thank all of the DSPs in the developmental disability, behavioral health, traumatic brain injury, and adult day service industries. You are amazing. You are resilient. You have made a difference in the lives of those you serve. You made and make a difference in MY life.
Stay resilient and stay strong,