Before she passed away a few years ago, the most important thing Joan Raineri did was to ensure that her daughter Renee would have a safe and comfortable home to live in, surrounded by exceptional support staff who would provide her with the best care possible. Joan’s wishes for her daughter’s well-being came true when Renee first moved into an AHRC NYC residence nearly 20 years ago. Today, Renee lives in AHRC NYC’s Mitchell and Susan Bloomberg Apartments, a residence that was designed specifically for people with significant health challenges. The residence employs direct care workers, managers, a house nurse, primary care physicians, and other professionals involved in an individual’s care.
“A Special Kind of Love”
Direct Support Professionals, (DSPs) are an integral part of the team that makes sure the 24 Bloomberg residents lead fulfilling lives at home and in the community. “I like to help people,” says Nichole Tucker, who has worked as a DSP at the Bloomberg residence for the past nine years. “I love when the residents come up to me and just ask ‘How was your day?’ or tell me ‘I missed seeing you this weekend!’ That makes me feel good. I don’t even look at it as working with people with disabilities. Everybody is special and unique in their own way.”
The training of the Bloomberg Apartments staff goes above and beyond that traditionally provided to human service workers. To ensure the quality of its employees, all prospective residential staff members undergo an intense screening process. Once hired, all employees must pass a training program designed to assist them in addressing the unique needs of the residents with whom they will work.
While Juanita Yearwood and Tulina Simms have each had previous work experience with in-home healthcare, they are both relatively new to working the field of disability services, with one and two years working with AHRC NYC, respectively. They help residents with their daily-living requirements, accompany them to medical appointments, and engage residents in fun recreation activities both inside the residence and out in the community.
“I fell in love as soon as I started working here,” says Tulina. “That connection was there from the first day. Working in this field keeps me motivated.”
“It takes a special kind of love to work here,” Juanita explains as she prepares for the arrival of a music therapist who visits Bloomberg each Thursday to sing karaoke with the residents. “It’s challenging when you first come but after a while, you develop that experience. There is always something else to look forward to.”
In her role, Juanita works closely with Renee and pays close attention to her preferences. “She likes her own room very organized. If anything is out of place, she will put it back. You can’t go in there with something and leave it there—she will want it out!”
Caring for a person’s unique needs can be a rewarding opportunity, but might also present emotional challenges. Occasionally, DSPs must cope with the harsh realities inherent to working with people who are medically vulnerable. “It was a day off when I found out that one of the residents here had passed away,” recalls Tulina. “I was getting ready to go out and run some errands when I got the call and I just froze. It was extremely emotional. I was thinking of going to visit him that weekend and I thought I had more time to see him. It’s hard.”
“After a long time you love them and they start to become part of your family,” Nichole reflects. With over 16 years of experience working at AHRC NYC, Nichole has formed long-lasting bonds with the people she supports, and memories of the time she has shared with them. “We talk together about their life, about how they made us laugh and the things they liked to do,” she says.
Creating Trust and Peace of Mind
A steadfast dedication to quality care of the Bloomberg residents builds trust between the DSPs, the residents, and their families. “At Bloomberg, they do everything I ask and then some,” says Valerie Raineri, Renee’s sister. “They always keep me abreast of her appointments and send me a monthly record of what her doctors say.”
Valerie and her family work closely with the Bloomberg staff to ensure Renee’s safety and happiness. Renee enjoys trips to the beauty supply store and loves to fix her hair at home, so Valerie works with residential staff to coordinate a visit to the hair salon four to five times each year. “A woman named Melody has been cutting our hair for over 30 years,” she says. “Renee gets very excited when I tell her we are going. She usually tells the staff that I am here with a big smile on her face.” The salon visits would not be possible without the support of Bloomberg staff. “I am very thankful to Cynthia Jiles [Residence Manager] at Bloomberg and her fantastic staff for arranging this throughout the year. I think she should be recognized for all the good things she does to make Renee’s life happy.”
Valerie says that the peace of mind the staff members at Bloomberg provide is incomparable. “I’m Renee’s legal guardian but I’m not always able to be with her. There’s security there, she’s always taken care of, and her needs are being met. I know that the staff members are treating Renee the way I would treat her and the way my mother would treat her.”