‘Success coaches’ aim to retain caregivers by helping them navigate challenges
Invisible Army: Caregivers on the Front Lines: Part of an occasional series supported by the Solutions Journalism Network
Destiny Roque loves her job at Heritage Christian Service, where she supports people with disabilities.
“I look at them as individuals that can be my relatives,” she said.
But over the past two years, work’s been a little tougher.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping support staffing levels consistent has been a challenge. And that’s affected the people she serves.
“A lot of them were down, and it was hard,” Roque said, adding that many of them were very anxious, and she saw an uptick in depression.
Roque’s own work began to be affected in 2020 when she was going through a domestic matter. She found herself in need of support and reached out to her manager.
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The situation is mirrored in countless families around New York and the nation as home care workers, who are often paid less than fast food workers and receive fewer benefits, leave the field because they can’t pay their bills. Some residents with disabilities sleep in their wheelchairs at night instead of being transferred to a bed, because they’re unsure if they’ll have an aide to get them up in the morning.
“I went in, and I told her ... I need help,” Roque said.
Roque knew that Heritage, through a partnership with the Employer Resource Network, provided “success coaches” for their staff. The coaches work as in-house social workers, helping employees with myriad issues, including food insecurity, child care and budgeting. They also provide assistance with emergencies, like in Roque’s case.
It benefits both employee and employer.
“It’s a model of increasing retention of an organization, by providing staff support to its employees,” said Marianne Durrant, executive director of the network’s Rochester branch.
Durrant said the agency brought the initiative to Rochester in 2019 to help address the many reasons why employees leave – reasons that go far beyond poor work performance.
“It could be because they were missing a lot of work, or they were coming in late. And when you dig into that, a lot of times, there's reasons behind that,” Durrant said. “Things like their day care lady didn't show up on time.”
Direct support professionals like Roque work in the agency’s day programs and 65 residential homes. And those positions have the highest percentage of vacancies for Heritage – roughly 10%.
Outside of raising its base pay to $15 per hour, the agency said the Employer Resource Network has been an incentive for recruiting and retaining staff for these roles.
With a 15-year track record, the supportive model has been proven to work for other organizations. It started in Michigan in 2007, and now services 200 employers across 11 states. In New York, businesses pay about $15,000 per year for the service and have reported, on average, a return on investment of over 200%.
The confidential service is offered to all employees. Heritage accounts for over 30% of employees using the service in the Rochester network. The network reports retention rates of over 90% for employees who have accessed the service.
The majority of requests are from direct support professionals or residential managers who reach out to intervene on behalf of their staff.
“They are looking for strategies or tools to better support themselves, also to support the employee,” said Chanel Terrell, one of three success coaches serving the Rochester region.
There are some limitations, though. Terrell said she does her best, but she can’t fulfill every request.
For example, many direct support professionals work at homes in areas outside the RTS bus line and transportation continues to be a major barrier. Terrell said there are no programs she can refer people to when they reach out for transportation assistance.
“We walk away very sad that we can't help everybody, but that is the reality you can’t support everybody,” said Terrell.
But there are many success stories.
Terrell was able to help Roque and her two children access housing assistance so they could escape a domestic violence situation.
Terrell coordinated the transition while Roque secured a restraining order. Heritage paid for her hotel room and provided Roque with a security guard for two weeks.
Roque has used the success coach services multiple times and said she encourages her co-workers to do the same.
“She could relate to me on many levels,” Roque said of Terrell.
It helped me grow as a person, it helped me grow as a mother, as an individual and as an employee," Roque said.
This story was produced through the New York & Michigan Solutions Journalism Collaborative, a partnership of news organizations and universities dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about successful responses to social problems. The group is supported by the Solutions Journalism Network.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the percentage of residential direct support positions vacant at Heritage Christian Services. The rate is approximately 10%. Also, three success coaches serve the Rochester region. An earlier version reported an incorrect number.
The collaborative’s first series, Invisible Army: Caregivers on the Front Lines, focuses on potential solutions to challenges facing caregivers of older adults.
April Franklin is the local host of WXXI's Weekend Edition and a reporter covering housing and neighborhood issues. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org