Providing Support During the COVID-19 Pandemic

What Is the Hardest Part of Working During the Pandemic?

Fear of being exposed or of exposing others to COVID-19

“It is very difficult to work during the COVID-19 pandemic because I am very scared for my health, as well as the individuals I support. I wear a face mask every day, but still continue to be concerned about the virus.”

“It makes NO sense to be shuffling DSPs and managers through different homes the way we are now.”

In a job that requires close physical contact, fear of being exposed or of exposing others to COVID-19, was the most common concern. Another frequently reported challenge in working through the pandemic for DSPs was balancing their health and the health of their families with that of the people they supported. Because of these two concerns, many left the DSP workforce, placing increased pressure on those who remained in their positions; the shifting schedules and disruption in staffing created instability in the lives of people supported.

Not being able to move freely in their communities

“We only go out for food and medicine. We are staying safe isolating in our home.”

“I feel that staff need some professional mental support dealing with the COVID -19 pandemic and worrying about their families and working in these conditions are very stressful and staff are feeling burned out.”

Not being able to move freely in their communities was also a frequently reported hardship for DSPs and the people with disabilities they support. Many DSPs reported feeling stressed, depressed or anxious after months of only traveling from home to work and often working extra hours due to staff shortages. This was compounded for many by lack of adequate pay and financial instability. 

People receiving supports from DSPs experienced stress and anxiety

“The hardest part of working during the pandemic is] watching the clients get angry at staff and the company because they think we are mean for keeping them inside. They do not understand the pandemic and they do not understand that we are keeping them safe.’

“The individual I support doesn’t understand why they can’t do the things they did before the pandemic and that’s heartbreaking.”

“To me, the hardest part is seeing the impact it has made on the persons supported as well as fellow coworkers. Them not understanding why they can’t go on an outing to a favorite place, why no visitors etc. at this time when they were used to having visitors.”

People receiving supports from DSPs also experienced stress and anxiety from being confined to their homes with no visitors beyond paid staff. Staff struggled to keep the people they support occupied and engaged in addition to staying healthy and safe. Social distancing for many was confusing and seemed punitive. Boredom, loneliness, and challenging behaviors such as aggression were other observed outcomes.

Low pay increases hardships

“The hardest part is feeling like you're not being compensated for being essential, while non-essential workers stay home and receive extra money, are able to work from home (in many cases), and have extra time with their families, with less risk to themselves or their families. Essential workers don't want to be exposed or take it home to their families either. They at least deserve compensation for the risk they are exposed to.”

“It has been hard to understand why I am not getting financially compensated for the new expectations set due to COVID.”

The historically low pay for work in direct support is compounded by increased hardships in other areas due to the pandemic, such as childcare and schools moving to distance learning. Most DSPs were not receiving extra pay due to COVID-19 risks, but many were required to work additional hours.

Other Difficulties

“The hardest part in working is not knowing if all staff are practicing good hygiene and social distancing when they are away from their job or someone coming in to work sick.”

“The shortage of staff, constant fear of contracting or spreading the virus, lack of resources (mental and physical) for the staff and participants.”

Other difficulties for DSPs working during the pandemic, and for the people they support, included the disruption of changing schedules and work responsibilities due to staff shortages. Lack of personal protective equipment, the discomfort of wearing a mask, and concern over other staff who did not take the pandemic and safety precautions seriously were other hardships reported by DSPs.