Brigitt Douglas has worked for The Arc as a community support staff for the past 13 years, supporting individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
She first became inspired by her mother, a registered nurse who worked in a group home when Douglas was a little girl. Later in life, she became a mother to a special needs son and realized caregiving was her calling in life.
Over her years at The Arc, Douglas has supported people in different ways, but right now she works in a residential home with two ladies, aged 63 and 54. She enjoys her job and feels her clients like her, as well. “I have a motherly type of love, not only them but other people,” Douglas said, “clients would probably describe me as a motherly type of role.”
A typical day as a community support staff includes checking the schedule for any appointments, asking the ladies about their day so far, and what they would like to do with the rest of their day. It also involves making dinner, washing laundry, and now deep cleaning surfaces to avoid the spread of germs, including COVID-19.
The pandemic’s impact is felt keenly by the two ladies Douglas supports. They haven’t been able to go out into the community for their regular activities. They don’t fully understand the extent of the pandemic or why they had to stop enjoying their regular activities. As a result, some mild depression has set in. Douglas says, “It’s been mentally hard on everybody. It’s been really stressful.”
Yet, the novel coronavirus isn’t the biggest challenge she faces, that would be staffing. Douglas feels called to the field because of her upbringing and her son’s disabilities, but not everyone feels the same way she does. The major deterrent for most people is the starting salary. It doesn’t reflect the level of work and care needed to perform the job. Agencies can do little about it because of the way the role is funded. The money funnels down from Medicaid, through the state, to the local community mental health, who sets the rates.
The staffing crisis weighs on her both because of her job and because she knows what the future holds – the odds are fairly good that everyone will need help at one point or another in their life:
“I tell my friends if you live long enough you may have to cross over. You might not have someone born with a disability. You could have someone cross over – car accident, disability. That could very well happen to you.”
Her own son isn’t doing very well right now. Douglas recently took some time off work to be there for him, while he’s being supported by other frontline workers—the nurses and doctors in the ICU. Her voice gets a little soft and wanders off when she talks about it, but she doesn’t let it get her down for long. She perks right up when you ask her what she likes to do for fun.
Socializing with her friends and singing keep her going. “I do love and enjoy singing, even though I’m not a Whitney Houston. I will get on a mike and let somebody have it.”, said Douglas. She laughs aloud as she says it.