Misericordia Direct Care Staff: The Real Heroes

by Linda Buchalo

Misericordia is a beautiful campus with many wonderful amenities, but those with a family member at Misericordia know that the quality of staff is what sets it apart from similar organizations. While staff at every level are compassionate and creative, personal direct care staff are a truly amazing group who bring warmth, understanding, and empathy to the residents. They work round-the-clock to ensure that our family members are well cared for.

Both Direct Service Professionals (DSPs) and Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) provide personal care depending on the residence and level of need. Their jobs often take on multiple roles: mentors, motivators, educators, tour guides, chaperones, friends, and more. Their work includes helping with grooming, mealtime, therapy plans, program plans, and recreation, all while helping residents to learn, communicate, and become more independent.

We interviewed direct care staff from each residential area to get an inside look at their day—what they do, what they enjoy, what they learn from the residents, and what motivates them to seek this type of employment.

Those who work as direct care staff become a familiar, dependable presence for the residents, handling many of the day-to-day tasks of caring for an individual with special needs. Damon Laws, AM supervisor at Rosemary/Connelly Homes adds: “When walking onto a unit you can see staff talking with the residents as they go about their daily routines. Often the staff have to alleviate fears and stress that come with being away from a home environment.”

Activities vary greatly by shift and by residence. Typically, the morning staff is very busy as direct care staff work to make sure residents are showered, fed, and get their meds before leaving for Community Day Services, or in non-pandemic times, for their jobs.

The evening staff spend more time with the residents in their homes, working on various goals, going on outings, and doing a variety of fun activities. From Kelli LaBelle, supervisor at Rosemary/Connelly Homes: “Rosemary Home really enjoys music and dance parties while Connelly Home enjoys [things] like karaoke, game nights, and nail painting.”

Evenings and weekends provide more time for staff to work with the residents in groups. Often, family members work hand-in-hand with staff to contribute to the overall experience. From Tiffany Batton and Nick Rymus, PM supervisors at Mercy Glen: “Group living is an awesome experience for our residents. Living with others that have different likes can allow others to explore things outside of their comfort zone … we have a resident that absolutely loves anything classic Disney. Parents provided the media … and the whole house looks forward to classic Disney nights.”

The overnight shift concentrates on cleaning, laundry, and doing regular wellness checks. From Felicia Allen, an overnight supervisor at McGowan: “Along with cleaning overnight DSPs also do wellness checks throughout the night … making sure residents are comfortable with positioning, repositioned when needed, and assist[ing] the residents with any bathroom needs.” Lizbeth Juarez, an overnight supervisor at Marian Center, adds: Occasionally you get a few residents who wake up and keep the DSP company. They typically watch the news together or listen to soft calming music.”

Often, staff go above and beyond to make life exciting for the residents. From David Minsky, a PM DSP at one of the CILA homes: “On days when they leave for home visits … I figured it’s a little sad to those left behind … so I made it a custom that I take the remaining guys for a drive-thru treat … (soda, shakes, McFlurry). Last home visit I made the men who stayed behind mint chocolate chip milkshakes.”

Staff must accommodate to the needs of the residents, which vary greatly between residences and even within a single residence. Rhonda Ellis, a PM supervisor at Quinlan said: “Quinlan staff have special challenges … our residents come to us … [and] we take care of them [through] the end of their lives. Staff that work with the residents get to know them and know what helps and makes things better. Who needs cinnamon on their food? Who needs cream in their coffee? … We know and we are sure they get everything that makes them happy … their perception is their reality.”

While the work can be challenging, Misericordia staff stand out because of their dedication and genuine love for the residents. From Kevin McCartan, a CNA at McCauley: “My favorite part of the job is being able to connect with residents on an emotional level. Getting to see the overall growth of each individual both mentally and emotionally is extremely rewarding and makes me feel like I am making a difference in their lives, as well as the lives of their families.”

Working with the residents is a two-way street. While staff spend their time helping and teaching the residents, staff also learn from them. From Tammy Palmer, a DSP at Shannon Apartments: “The residents teach me patience and to not judge a book by its cover … not looking at what they may not be able [to do] but looking at the things they can do.” And Raquel Munoz, a DSP at the Village, adds: “The residents have taught me compassion and gratitude, to appreciate all we have, to give back to others, to enjoy the little things in life and taking it one step at a time.”

As to what attracts individuals to this job and what keeps them here, Kevin McCartan shared: “What attracted me to this position was seeing how much of an impact Misericordia has on the Chicagoland community and the entire community of those with developmental disabilities. This job has been so much more than any nursing home or other long term care facility could ever provide me with. What has kept me here over the years is my love for the residents. The residents have given me a sense of purpose in my life and I am forever grateful.”

During the pandemic, many family members have truly learned to appreciate the services that Misericordia’s direct care staff provide when visiting was put on hold, and we entrusted the total care of our family members to this amazing group. Many expressed that they appreciate a simple thank you, either verbally or in the form of a personal note. Just taking an interest in the staff is also much appreciated—taking the time to chat or ask about what they’ve been doing. Families have shown their appreciation in a variety of ways.

While families have long been appreciative of the services of Misericordia staff, these past 20 months have shown us just how fortunate we are that our family members are in the care of such kind, caring people.