Unsung Heroes; Frontline Caregivers at Abbott House

During this unprecedented time of the Covid-19 pandemic, we want to shine a light on the courage and compassion of our heroic Direct Support Professionals (DSPs), who care for individuals with developmental disabilities at group homes run by Abbott House. These DSPs serve quietly on the frontlines of caregiving every day, and their commitment is deeply awe-inspiring. “While most of the focus has been on health care professionals who truly deserve our praise and support, the Direct Support Professionals at Abbott House are our unsung heroes,” says Justine Christakos, the organization’s Vice President of Programs.

At Abbott House there are some 200 frontline DSPs who work with more than 100 individuals at 16 group homes, known to the industry as Individual Residential Alternatives (IRAs), throughout Westchester and Rockland Counties and the Bronx. Most DSPs are making a minimum wage of $13 -$15 an hour, yet their dedication is unwavering. “Our DSPs don’t have the luxury of working remotely. However, they’re deemed essential workers and go in regardless because they’re that devoted,” says Christakos.

“Our Direct Support Professionals take a high risk in caring for a very fragile population that’s made up of developmentally disabled adults, who age differently and who struggle medically and neurologically. The population ranges from individuals who have Down syndrome or cerebral palsy to those with autism and brain damage,” says James Kaufman, President and CEO of Abbott House.

“Abbott House’s DSPs are working with our individuals day and night. They do all the interventions – medication management, feeding, bathing, cleaning, and helping with daily living skills,” says Kaufman. “With the Covid-19 pandemic, it has become increasingly difficult to staff our homes as more DSPs are testing positive with the virus.”

This challenge has been further deepened as outside programs and excursions that once provided those in our care with a greater sense of community and belonging have been put on pause. For adults with developmental disabilities who often thrive in an environment of structure and routine, the absence of these opportunities creates feelings of anxiety or isolation, and DSPs are challenged with finding creative ways to meet these emotional needs every day within the confines of the residential setting.

Christakos says the staff are so dedicated at Abbott House that even when they have been sick or exposed to the virus and have had to quarantine themselves, they return to work after their recuperation. The level of commitment is remarkable. “They are also picking up extra shifts, knowing that their coworkers are ill and can’t come in. Most importantly, they are insuring that our individuals are well cared for and are putting themselves at risk to do so,” says Christakos.

“There are some staff members who are just so dedicated it makes you cry. Some have gotten sick and they come back after being quarantined even though I’m sure they’re scared. They are truly doing the Lord’s work,” says Kaufman.

Abbott House, a human service agency based out of Irvington, NY, offers a wide range of programs and services that provide care for individuals with developmental disabilities, children in foster care, unaccompanied immigrant children and struggling families.

Our staff and programs are focused on creating a deep, enduring sense of family and home for individuals with complex human needs, so they can survive and thrive.