Residential Alternatives Making a Difference for People with Disability in Herkimer County

By Courtney Brown

Audrey Piccione, supports and services director at Arc Herkimer.

Arc Herkimer currently operates 20 residences throughout the Mohawk Valley, including individualized residential alternatives (IRA) and supportive living homes.

This type of community housing provides room, board and services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The certified IRA homes have 24-hour staff who aid with needs of daily living. Direct support professionals (DSP) provide basic home health, including medication administration, dressing, cooking, cleaning and transportation, and they also keep the installations in great shape, from the kitchen to the bathroom, although if you have issues with the drains often, learning how to use a snake drain is also useful. They also engage residents in enriching activities, such as attending community events, arts and crafts, theme parties and socializing with peers. Staff in these positions often succeed with compassion, empathy, and effective communication.

“In the IRAs, one of the most crucial parts of direct care is ensuring we have the right staff,” says Audrey Piccione, supports and services director at Arc Herkimer. “Making sure we’re bringing in people who are proficient and eager to learn; staff who are seeking direct support as a career.”

Each IRA is also equipped with a house manager who focuses on finances, orders medicine, ensures health needs are met, and trains direct care staff. Moreover, they build an understanding of every single resident within that home, helping to navigate specific aspects of a person’s life regarding wants, needs, and personality.

“When we screen individuals for residential living, we try to make the best match we can based on their needs and our support staff,” says Piccione. “Occasionally, an individual may not have a peer group inside their home, so we try our best to engage them in weekend activities with peers who share similar likes and interests.”

Alternatively, supportive living homes do not have 24-hour staff. Rather, DSPs have intermittent check-ins throughout the week, working closely with people with disabilities on being independent both in their homes and within the community. In supportive living, they aid individuals in skill development, maintaining their home, medication administration, nutrition and cooking, and healthy living.

The Arc Herkimer direct care team is consistently refining how to support individuals both in the IRA homes and supportive living. They are helping individuals with disabilities to be more self-sufficient and building skills to thrive, with the end goal of increased independence and quality of life.

Courtney Brown is public relations director at Arc Herkimer.