When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and led to the closure of many day programs for people with disabilities and seniors across New Mexico, many lives were upended. People who count on those services needed 24/7 care in their homes. Direct support professionals, who provide the hands-on care these vulnerable populations count on, quickly emerged as some of the most essential workers in the community.
At Adelante Development Center, a nonprofit with locations throughout New Mexico, this was especially true. Adelante operates nearly 20 homes for people with disabilities and provides assisted living services for seniors — people who are at greater risk of complications from coronavirus. Direct support professionals at Adelante provide essential personal care, which can include helping people get dressed, eat, take their medications and other daily activities.
Adelante is one of the largest employers of direct service staff in the state with more than 300 on the frontlines, caring for others amid a global pandemic.
“This work is truly valued by the clients getting services, but it does put workers at a greater risk than many other fields during this pandemic,” said Adelante President and CEO Mike Kivitz. “Adelante values this work and knows it is essential, but, as a nonprofit, we cannot always reward these employees to the extent we would like.”
Direct support professionals, like many New Mexicans, are facing increased hardships due to the COVID-19 outbreak. At the same time, they need additional resources to continue providing care for seniors and people with disabilities as safely as possible.
“We have to protect people,” said Robin Carter, a direct support professional for over 20 years. “We are working hard to make sure the medical needs of people are met in each home, including medication assistance, telemedicine appointments, and even lab or in-person doctor’s visits.”
To help Adelante’s direct support professionals meet the increased demands of delivering personal care during the pandemic, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico (BCBSNM) awarded the organization a $20,000 grant. The funds came from a larger $250,000 donation to United Way of Central New Mexico through BCBSNM’s $1 million COVID-19 Community Collaborative Grant Fund, which supports nonprofit organizations throughout the state that focus on areas such as child and senior care, health care access, and homelessness and housing.
“This funding to support direct service staff is a great way to say thank you and to ensure that the care vulnerable people need continues to be provided and rewarded.”
The grant to Adelante provides direct support professionals and their families with assistance for basic needs — such as food, clothing and medication — in addition to providing supplementary pay for working amid increased risk. The funds also help Adelante cover the unexpected costs of purchasing extra cleaning and sanitizing supplies and personal protective equipment.
Lives depend on direct support professionals frequently sanitizing surfaces, washing their hands, and washing clients’ hands. Though everyone wears gloves and masks during care, it is nearly impossible to practice social distancing while helping others with certain tasks, such as eating or bathing. Temperatures are taken every shift, and direct support professionals get tested for the virus weekly. Many have been reassigned to new locations, taking extra travel and time.
Direct support professionals also play a crucial role in supporting clients’ personal enrichment and sense of connection during this difficult time.
“It can be depressing and stressful for people to be home all day,” Carter said. “We are making sure they have plenty of activities and are working on their goals and staying in virtual contact with their families and guardians.”
According to Adelante, the pandemic is putting enormous strain on the disability and senior care field. Direct support professionals are under scrutiny and stress like never before, and their care has never been more important.
“We, as a community, need caring, capable people in this field,” Kivitz said. “This funding to support direct service staff is a great way to say thank you and to ensure that the care vulnerable people need continues to be provided and rewarded.”