Everyone knows I started working for KenCrest in 1977 as a Direct Support Professional (DSP). Fresh from college, I worked at the original KenCrest location on 2nd and Susquehanna. It was a fantastic experience; I did some excellent work, and I will always be grateful for the teenagers there who helped me learn my role.
I had a mission there to help prepare these kids for independent living in their place because they could achieve that outcome. I loved those kids, and, in those days, we were fully staffed…for a while anyway. Within two years every direct care employee in that home turned over.
Turnover deeply impacted those teens at the time. If our most outstanding social achievements depended on relationships, if our best lives were lived when someone knew us well and how to live in harmony with us, then it is no small surprise that there would be ups and downs when staff changed.
Over the years, I’ve heard clients ask questions like, “who is coming on the next shift?” or “when you leave, will you be my friend?” It’s difficult for the people we support and our employees to experience change constantly. As human beings, we want consistency and deep relationships with someone who knows us, accepts us, encourages us, and someone we trust.
There is no question that for some folks, a group home with staff shifts can be the absolute best approach. However, the number who need that support is minimal compared to those who live in group homes today. At KenCrest, turnover is half of what it is at other providers, but our vacancies are as high as all other providers around the country. We need more people to staff these many homes in our communities.
KenCrest Nurse House Manager, Joyce Benfield, is a perfect example of someone who understands her residents and her own desired personal outcomes. Since 2018, she’s uniquely supported four medically fragile adults with some holiday cheer. She decorates the home every holiday and when the seasons change to match what is happening worldwide. Benfield, along with DSPs and additional nurses, care for the residents, and constantly encourages them to live meaningful lives.
Everyone is entitled to a happy life, and this is one way our employees make that happen for the people we support. What we need to do moving forward is to explore our desired personal outcomes deeply. Then we need to ask if we have the exact expectations for these folks we support, and if not, why not? Justice and equity require us to expect everyone to be entitled to a happy life.
As we plan forward, if we define the outcome using the “L word,” we will be able to mobilize what is needed to help the people we support onto the path of love and what all love makes possible.