Amy Nielsen, president, and Jesper Nielsen, CEO, owners of Croyle-Nielsen Therapeutic Associates Inc., are at their office on Budfield Street in Richland Township.

Amy and Jesper Nielsen, of Croyle-Nielsen Therapeutic Associates Inc., work to help people with disabilities live independently. That includes the ongoing process of hiring caregivers to help people with day-to-day tasks.

Health-care services continuously seek candidates for caregiver jobs, but filling those positions may be even more critical during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, most people with developmental or behavioral disorders are not naturally at higher risk for becoming infected with or having severe illness from COVID-19.

However, people with developmental or behavioral disorders who have underlying medical conditions may be at risk because they may have difficulties accessing information, understanding or practicing preventative measures, and communicating symptoms of an illness.

An NPR analysis of data from Pennsylvania and New York showed that in both states, people with intellectual disabilities who tested positive for COVID-19 died at higher rates than others with the virus.

In Pennsylvania, people with intellectual disabilities and autism who test positive for COVID-19 die at a rate about twice as high as other Pennsylvania residents who contract the illness, according to NPR.

The numbers in Pennsylvania were compiled by the Office of Developmental Programs of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services and count people who get state services while living in group homes, state institutions or in their own homes. As of June 2, there were 801 confirmed cases and 113 deaths among people with intellectual disabilities and autism.

‘Cover the growth’

Jesper Nielsen, chief executive officer of Croyle-Nielsen Therapeutic Associates Inc., referenced that NPR analysis in an interview about the services Croyle-Nielsen provides to people in Cambria and Somerset counties.

Amy (Croyle) Nielsen is the company president for husband-wife team, which is hiring direct support professionals (DSPs) who work with adults living in their state-licensed residential homes, Amy Nielsen said.

“For those positions, you can have a GED or high school diploma and you also need a clean background check. But we provide the training,” she said. “For people displaced from retail jobs or people who are service or care-oriented, they are a fit for this. You have to like and care about people. The job is about keeping people safe, healthy and happy.

“It’s helping them with cooking skills or cleaning skills. It’s not a medical thing. It’s helping them in their homes.”

She said Croyle-Nielsen employs more than 50 DSPs.

“We could hire another 10 easily right now to cover the growth we have going on,” she said.

At Croyle-Nielsen, therapy services and behavioral support for adults with intellectual disabilities as well as  residential services continued to grow even through the pandemic.

“The coronavirus doesn’t stop the need for mental health and behavioral needs services,” Amy Nielsen said. “The need for therapy increased through this.”

‘Looking for candidates’

Two new Croyle-Nielsen therapists are in the credentialing process.

“We could bring on another one or two,” Amy Nielsen said. “But it’s in the intellectual disabilities program, our residential program, where we really need more people.

“That really is the program we are continually hiring for.”

The residential program runs around the clock.

“We have flexible hours for people who need to work overnight because they can’t get child care,” she said. “We also have a weekend block that

provides full-time hours. You can work seven days on, seven days off. You get two-weeks worth of work in that one week. We offer a variety of shifts and part-time, too. We can really work with everyone’s needs.”

Johnstown Area Regional Industries Director Debra Balog said demand for caregivers is always high, and it’s not an easy job, but it is critical now more than ever.

“Any agency employing them is looking for candidates right now,” Balog said. “These jobs are hard to fill. It’s physical and stressful type of position.

“They are always in demand but now they are even more critical.”

Safe services at home

Croyle-Nielsen and Alleghenies Unlimited Care Providers in Johnstown have been using PA CareerLink of the Southern Alleghenies for job postings, site administrator Jeff Dick said.

At Alleghenies Unlimited Care Providers in Johnstown, staff provide in-home care to those who need help because of age or disability.

“It’s about giving them dignity,” said Tasha Adams, director for development. “It’s a great option. People work with one client.”

For people wanting a full-time job or supplemental income, Allegheny Unlimited Care Providers is looking for direct caregivers and residential caregivers. Benefits packages are available for full and part-time roles, she said.

The agency operates five residential homes in Cambria County with up to three residents in each home. Allegheny Unlimited Care Providers has has more than 200 direct caregivers throughout different counties.

“We are experiencing an expansion of more people not wanting to go into institutions, especially in the current culture of COVID-19,” Adams said.

“We find a lot of family members wanting to take this option rather than going to institutions.

“Our direct caregivers help with bathing, toileting, meal preparation. The work varies, but none of it is medical. Some just need medication reminders or companionship. A DSP becomes part of their family.” 

Russ O'Reilly is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @RussellOReilly.


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