Forget 24/7, it’s now 24/30 — or longer — for some who take care of developmentally disabled: ‘Basically, we are their family’

It’s quite a personal sacrifice, albeit one that comes with additional compensation of overtime pay and bonuses. The sacrifice also is made easier by the special relationships that often exist between residents and workers.

SHARE Forget 24/7, it’s now 24/30 — or longer — for some who take care of developmentally disabled: ‘Basically, we are their family’
Roosevelt Journigans at the Trinity Services Inc. home for developmentally disabled residents in Joliet where he works.

Roosevelt Journigans at the Trinity Services Inc. home for developmentally disabled residents in Joliet where Journigans is now working 30- to 45- day stints to reduce the risk of transmitting the disease.

Provided photo.

Roosevelt Journigans hasn’t left his workplace in 30 days, and he just signed up to extend that streak to 45 days before he finally goes home again.

Journigans is among 120 employees of Trinity Services Inc. who during the COVID-19 pandemic have moved into residential facilities for developmentally disabled individuals in Illinois to reduce the risk of transmitting the disease.

Instead of eight or nine different staff members a day coming and going across three eight-hour shifts at the Joliet care home where he works, Journigans and two other women left their own homes behind to live 24/7 at the facility for a month.

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“At first I wasn’t interested,” said Journigans, 63, who normally lives with his sister in Lockport. “It worked out pretty good.”

It’s quite a personal sacrifice, albeit one that comes with additional compensation of overtime pay and bonuses.

The sacrifice also is made easier by the special relationships that often exist between residents and workers.

“You develop bonds with them. I always worry about them. Basically, we are their family,” he said.

The so-called “stay in place” approach requires workers to cut themselves off physically from the community, almost as if they were working on an oil well at sea.

The idea is that the coronavirus cases plaguing nursing homes and other group living arrangements usually are brought into those settings by asymptomatic staff members who do not realize they are carrying the virus.

By reducing the number of people going in and out of a building, officials at Trinity hoped to limit the potential exposure to residents.

It appears to have worked.Only six individuals have tested positive for COVID-19 with just one death across Trinity’s 100 facilities housing 650 clients.

Nobody has become sick at the Joliet intermediate care facility where Journigans has spent the past month caring for its 14 residents.

Fifty-one of Trinity’s 100 homes, including all eight in Chicago, are using the stay-in-place staffing system.

Other Illinois service providers to the developmentally disabled have adopted similar approaches after learning about Trinity’s efforts, said Thane Dykstra, chief executive officer of the non-profit organization.

Dykstra said staying in place has worked well for residents but has been difficult for employees.

“I think people are glad when they come out. It’s a lot of work,” he said.

In addition, some struggled with missing family events such as Easter and Mother’s Day. Another couldn’t be there when a family member died.

“It’s been challenging for folks, but a lot of them understand the value and the difference they’ve made for our program participants,” Dykstra said.

Journigans and his co-workers are known as “direct support professionals” or DSPs, a notoriously low-paid line of work involving some of society’s most dedicated caregivers.

As I have written previously, caregivers in these settings don’t have the luxury of social distancing. In many cases, they have to help residents eat, bathe and dress. They also have to prepare the food and clean.

Roosevelt Journigans at the Trinity Services Inc. home for developmentally disabled residents in Joliet.

Roosevelt Journigans at the Trinity Services Inc. home for developmentally disabled residents in Joliet.

Provided photo.

Starting pay is $10.10 an hour. The state reimburses providers such as Trinity at $13 an hour. The low pay rate is a constant problem because it makes it difficult to recruit and retain workers.

“We’ve lost so many fabulous workers, and the only reason they left was because of money,” said Journigans, who is president of his AFSCME local union.

Since shutting himself in at the Joliet facilty, Journigans said he’s worked 16 to 17 hours a day on average, which means he’s piling up 80 to 90 hours of overtime per week — at time and a half. Employees are not paid for the time they are sleeping. He’ll receive a $2,000 bonus for completing the 30 days — and another $2,000 when he finishes the additional 15 days.

Dykstra said Trinity is able to temporarily afford the bonuses because the state is continuing to pay for the day program the agency normally provides but can’t during the shutdown. Given the staff shortages, overtime costs are always present, he said.

Residents of the Joliet home have been diagnosed with Down syndrome, autism and other developmental disabilities. They range in age from 29 to 65.

All are mobile, although some are in wheelchairs. Not everyone speaks, but “most understand what you’re saying,” Journigans said.

Journigans came to this line of work as a young man after being laid off from a factory job and found that it changed him for the better, teaching both patience and empathy.

He takes his sense of accomplishment in the small things, such as teaching a 60-year-old man how to tie his own shoes for the first time.

When this pandemic is behind us, it would be shameful if we failed to better compensate those who make this commitment.

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