Easterseals New Jersey's Concerns During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Apr 17, 2020

Brian Fitzgerald, President and Chief Executive Officer of Easterseals NJ spends time with Simone, a camper at Camp Merry Heart
Credit Easterseals NJ

Since January 8th, 1948, Easterseals New Jersey says it has worked to meet the continuously growing needs of people with disabilities and the families who love them here in New Jersey.

Easterseals New Jersey CEO Brian Fitzgerald talked to WBGO News Director Doug Doyle about how the coronavirus pandemic has impacted his organization.

"The intellectual developmental disabled population, they are primarily in a group residence or with their family.  The group we are most concerned about are those that are living with their families, since many of their parents are elderly and part of the most vulnerable population and so you're having not only people with disabilities which are vulnerable but their parents as well.  So there's an opportunity for the virus to have a greater impact on those folks, so we're monitoring those through telephone calls just to see how they're doing and trying to link them with community support services as needed."

Fitzergald says in all of their residential programs they're practicing all of the CDC guidelines as well as those from the State Health Department.

"So far we have not had any issues of the virus within our residences, but I think it's really to the issue of staff training and the availability of supplies.  I think the priority goes to healthcare and that's appropriate, but our folks need the same kind of PPE equipment, masks and gloves in order to ensure we're not spreading the virus.  They're in short supply to the service industry.  So that's a concern of ours."

Fitzgerald says some of the individuals he works with could eventually be dealing with a new scenario.

"When you're working with some with a developmental disabiity many times they can't comprehend the situation and need the support of a loved one.  So that's concern.  If they have to go to a hospital setting will they have the support necessary during that time.  I think the others is in terms of recognizing the needs of people with disabiilties during this situation.

Easterseals New Jersey, based in East Brunswick, has been helping people for more than 70 years
Credit Easterseals New Jersey

The Easterseals New Jersey purpose is to change the way the world defines and views disabilities by making profound, positive differences in people’s lives. With the help of our supporters, Fitzgerald says the organization is “taking on disability together” and working to enrich the lives of people living with disabilities and special needs by providing opportunities to live, learn, work, and play in their communities.

Brian Fitzgerald went from being born and raised in a rough neighborhood in New York City, to rising through the ranks from intern to the position of CEO and President of Easterseals New Jersey, the leading disability services not-for-profit.  Before Easterseals, Fitzgerald served in the United States Armed Forces completing a tour in Vietnam from 1967-1972, where he was recognized for his valor and meritorious service.  He later went on to obtain his Bachelor's and Master's in Rehabilition Counseling from Seton Hall University.

Brian Fitzgerald (left) came to Easterseals after serving in the United States Armed Forces
Credit Easterseals New Jersey

Fitzgerald has basically been helping people his entire life.  Where did that come from?

"I guess it goes back to my parents and their upbringing. I've always felt that being able to help others is kind  of part of the path of life.  If I can help people along the way then I am glad and willing to do that."

Under Brian's leadership, Easterseals New Jersey has grown from a $16 million organization to a $106 million with a multi-corporate structure annually serving nearly 9,000 individuals with developmental disabilities including autism, physical disabilities, mental illness and other special needs. 

Fitzgerald says Easterseals' programs are designed to help those individuals work toward achieving independence and full community-integration.