MISSION: UCP WORK, Inc. is dedicated to providing services to residents of the Tri-Counties with developmental disabilities, so that they may work and live as contributing citizens within the community of their choice.

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The Hidden Heroes at UCP WORK, Inc: A Detailed Look Behind the Scenes of Direct Support Professionals

By Rae van Seenus on Sep 11, 2020 at 04:31 PM in UCP WORK, Inc. Blog

Heroes work here! 

We’re not talking about nurses or firefighters, but the everyday unsung heroes that facilitate quality person-centered services at UCP WORK, Inc. and are essential in providing the necessary supports to people with disabilities where they live and work.  These special direct support professionals (DSPs) provide hands on support to individuals to assist them in living more fulfilling, independent, and self-directed lives, yet their workload is too often hidden from the spotlight of the COVID-19 heroes we hear about in the news.  DSPs are known in the industry to wear many hats and perform a wide array of tasks in the workplace, yet every day, nearly 4.5 million direct care workers support people with disabilities across the U.S. and their scope of work is often overlooked.   

 

No doubt, the COVID-19 global crisis has impacted the direct support workforce, with constant changes in safety protocols and the increased risks associated with working on the frontlines.  DSPs are still at serious risk due to their level of personal care, activities of daily living, access to health services, and more.  They have close and consistent contact with people that they serve and considered to be in the same general risk category as health care personnel.

 

To celebrate DSP Recognition Week, September 14 - 19, 2020, UCP WORK, Inc. is recognizing four of our agency's DSPs for their positive attitudes and for the innovative ways they make a difference in people’s lives.  These individuals have been nominated by our team of Directors as UCP WORK, Inc’s “Hidden Heroes”, because of their strengths in executing individualized support and ethical decision-making.  We certainly recognize the invaluable contributions they provide daily and believe it’s our obligation, as an agency, to support them so that they can continue to protect others.

 

Lead Staff for UCP WORK, Inc's Supported Living Program Hugo Sosa with a man he supports wearing facemasks

“I love my job,” expresses Hugo Sosa, Lead Staff in UCP WORK, Inc’s Independent & Supported Living Program (ISL).  

Hugo works directly with five men that have lived together for nearly 30 years in the Manitou House in Santa Barbara.  Due to his selflessness and positive approach, Hugo has experienced an outstanding transformation in the housemates during COVID-19.  “Together, we have turned something negative into a positive,” says Hugo, “the pandemic has given us more time together to work and learn as a group.  The guys are planning daily meals and learning to cook for themselves in case staff were to get sick.”

 

Hugo has taught the men he serves the power of saving money and how to combine their earnings to re-decorate and organize their home, and how to shop more organic foods to live and cook more healthfully.  Additionally, Hugo has coached the men to clean the house every Friday, rotating tasks, and they split the money that would have regularly paid for a housecleaner.  When the group ventures outside, Hugo takes the men to play soccer, go on picnics and hikes, and introduced them to his two dogs for what he calls, “dog therapy”.  The dogs love the social interaction and the men get regular exercise. 

Lead Staff for UCP WORK, Inc's Supported Living Program Hugo Sosa with the men he supports at the Santa Barbara breakwater

“Quarantine has actually been fun for our group, because the guys don’t just sit and watch TV all day.  They are willing to learn, and when they do, they feel so proud.” – Hugo Sosa.

 

UCP WORK, Inc's Job Coach Corina Powell standing in the marina wearing a facemask and jean shorts with hands on her hips

Corina Powell has worked with UCP WORK, Inc. for five years as a Job Coach in the Applied Abilities Program and was recently promoted into a new role as Harbor Crew Coach, working alongside the maintenance crew at the Santa Barbara waterfront.  COVID-19 has significantly impacted the number of people working in the agency’s Employment Services programs, due to individuals’ increased health conditions and risk of exposure to the virus.  DSPs like Corina opted to fill employee vacancies.  “I don’t want anyone to get burnt out,” Corina shares, “As a Crew Coach, I do the maintenance work, like trash, right there with the staff.  Sometimes we walk five miles through the marina, so it’s not an easy job, but I give them all the choice and a lot of positive praise along the way.” 

“My job is so rewarding, plus it feels good to help!” – Corina Powell

UCP WORK, Inc's Job Coach Corina Powell standing near a restroom during cleaning wearing a facemask and giving a thumbs up

When we asked Corina what she believed her strengths are in coaching employees with disabilities, she said, “Consistent encouragement and calmly explaining what they’re capable of doing.  I teach them how to make compromises with each other, work as a team, and I recognize that each individual has different ways of communicating.”

UCP WORK, Inc. Job Coach Johnathan Plummer standing outside the Applied Abilities office wearing a white facemask

Johnathan Plummer has worked for UCP WORK, Inc. for four years as a Job Coach in the Applied Abilities day-services in Santa Barbara.  But because of in-person program closures, he has willingly stepped up where help was needed most and has been a tremendous ally in our ISL Program.  “For about a month when COVID started, I worked closely with the five men at the Manitou house, which is different than my typical work at the day program. In only a short time, I really built a bond with each of them,” shares Johnathan. 

 

To build rapport with the people he serves, Johnathon developed a significant workout routine for the housemates, following Special Olympics videos, and modifying the exercises to meet individuals’ needs. Along with daily fitness tracking, the participants gained motivation and took pride in their physical health.  “By planning the exercises, I got to know each individual’s strengths and weaknesses,” shares Johnathan, “It really was the highlight of my time working in ISL.”

Another hero-worthy accomplishment by Johnathan is his innovative Zoom class called, “Daily Happenings”, where participants are encouraged to talk about current events.  Currently, there are five people in the class and discussion topics have included the BLM riots, COVID-19, program closures, sports, and life after the pandemic, which the group hopes to plan a visit to Disneyland.

UCP WORK, Inc. Job Coach Johnathan Plummer sitting at his desk and leading a Zoom class wearing a facemask

“I believe people with disabilities should have access and knowledge of what’s going on in the world and get to talk about it with their peers.” – Johnathan Plummer.

Melia Bailley was nominated as our fourth UCP WORK, Inc. “Hidden Hero” by Director of ILS in Santa Maria, Renee DeLauer, because, “Melia is an exceptional staff member who always goes above and beyond to help the person she works with.  She is just an all-around great person,” Renee says. 

UCP WORK, Inc. Life-Skills Coach Melia Bailey standing with the man she supports wearing facemasks

Melia has been a full-time Life-Skills Coach with the agency for two years, choosing to work the 4:00pm - 12:00am weekday shift and also on weekends, which is often a difficult time to fill.  She works directly with a gentleman in his home, teaching him to be responsible in wearing his mask, helping him clean his apartment, and running essential errands.  To preserve social connections for the person she serves, Melia schedules regular FaceTime calls and socially distant get-togethers with his mom.  “We used to be involved with the Special Needs Network with their drama club, dances, and going hiking as a group, and we miss that social outlet, but quarantine has actually been a good break, a good resting period for the person I serve.” 

 

Melia currently completed her Associates degree at Hancock College in Santa Maria in Sociology and said that starting in high school, she had been interested in working in a role that gives support to people with disabilities. 

UCP WORK, Inc. Life-Skills Coach Melia Bailey standing with the man she supports wearing facemasks

“I am grateful that my job hasn’t changed due to the pandemic.  We are keeping busy as best we can and trying to get outdoors often to explore our local parks, it’s been fun.”  - Melia Bailley

General Facts About DSPs

From 2018 to 2028, the long-term care sector will need to fill 8.2 million job openings in direct care.  Turnover among the direct care workforce has generally been reported at 40 to 60 percent or higher.

PHI Quality Care Through Quality Jobs. (2020). Retrieved from https://phinational.org.  

Medicaid is the primary source of funding for the programs employing direct support professionals. The current Medicaid reimbursement system, cost cutting actions by state legislatures and Medicaid officials, and recent strides to raise the minimum wage in several cities and states have exacerbated the workforce crisis already hampered by low wages, a lack of affordable health insurance, high turnover, and a shortage of staff.

The Arc of California. (2018). Retrieved from https://thearc.org/policy-advocacy/direct-support-professionals/