Residential direct-care workers are essential

Staff at group homes deserve recognition

THROUGHOUT THE COVID-19 crisis, residential direct-care personnel have selflessly risked their health for the well-being of others. When we hear the term essential, most of us think of the hospital healthcare worker, police officer, firefighter, EMT, and nursing home employee. Residential direct-care staff work with vulnerable populations in group or community homes. They have direct contact with those they support and assume the danger of exposure to themselves and their families.

The role of a group home staff person is a complex one. The staff provides emotional and behavioral management and follow through with medical and clinical plans. They assist with personal hygiene, laundry, and overall cleanliness of the residence, client bedrooms, and common areas. They make large family-style meals, dispense medication, create and participate in activities to keep clients engaged, support family communication, and, in some cases, act as a surrogate parent. However, these dedicated workers are not being recognized as essential under the standard idea of the essential workforce. It’s time we include them in that vision.

Day-to-day responsibilities of many residential-care workers have evolved amidst this pandemic. At Thrive Support & Advocacy, a provider of support and services for those with developmental or intellectual disabilities, the duties of our residential employees and their supervisors have increased ten-fold in a matter of weeks. Yet, the level of care they provide remains steadfast.

Supervisors, who continue to manage daily activities and their staff, are now caring for residents. The responsibilities of our direct-care personnel have expanded to include professional grocery shoppers, telehealth medical experts, nurses, technology experts, and, in some cases, roommates. Thrive’s homes are some of the largest in the state, ranging in size from 5 to 13 residents per home. For many of our residents, or Thrivers as we call them, this pandemic and the changes it has brought is a problematic situation to decipher.

Thrive’s residential team has been instrumental in supporting our residents and maintaining an environment of stability, engagement, and, above all, health. As you can imagine, this is no small feat with the varying needs within each home.

As president & CEO of Thrive, I can’t say enough about our direct-care team throughout this crisis. As an organization, Thrive is working passionately to ensure that our staff feels valued and safe. As CEO, I have reached out to legislators and key players to bring the struggles of this workforce to the forefront. On an organizational level, we are offering flexible work schedules, donating necessary items for their personal use, and displaying signs of appreciation outside the homes.

We spend countless hours each week reassessing and shopping for essential and protective supplies to keep everyone safe and healthy. We’ve initiated several programs engaging the Thrive community, including, a #GratitudeChain appreciation letter-writing campaign, home-made face masks for our team and residents, and a “Sponsoring a Meal” program for Thrive’s community residences to help brighten their day. But these efforts alone are not enough.

These workers are not recognized as essential workers in the eyes of the media and the eyes of communities. As a result, they don’t get the same recognition or advocacy as that of a hospital care worker, first responder, or nursing home worker. No one is on social media creating fundraisers for them to have proper supplies to do their jobs safely. No restaurants are offering them free meals, and they are in no commercials. There are no police cars and fire trucks parked in the shape of hearts outside their workplaces. There are no thank yous to residential staff and group home workers on any billboards or mowed into Fenway Park’s outfield.

It is not precisely accurate to call these staff front-liners, the way we refer to healthcare staff. But, like healthcare staff, they do not have the safety of working from home. They are working from a job site each day, with a substantial risk of infection, providing care for vulnerable persons with serious medical and or mental health conditions.

Wrap your arms around us, and together let’s ensure that Thrive’s direct-care team, and similar teams across the state, receive the same attention as other essential workers. They deserve to be a more significant part of the conversation considering the risks and responsibilities they face. Do not leave this population and the staff that care for them behind.

Meet the Author

Sean M Rose

President and CEO, Thrive Support & Advocacy
Years from now, when we look back on this time, direct-care personnel, like many others, will be lauded as the unsung heroes behind the pandemic for their selfless commitment to providing for our most vulnerable people. These staff are unsung heroes in our communities whether there was a pandemic or not. Let’s not forget their sacrifice.

Sean M. Rose is president and CEO of Thrive Support & Advocacy.