Honor a Caregiver: Spotlight on Case Manager Sutarshia Johnson

Black woman with glasses. She's wearing a pink hoodie.

For Sutarshia Johnson, one of Project Guardianship’s exemplary case managers, caregiving is integral to who she is and how she interacts with the world.

“I love standing up for others,” Sutarshia remarked during a rare moment of downtime in the PG offices. “It motivates me to be there for them and to try to make a difference in their lives.”

Twenty-five clients with diverse challenges like mental illness, dementia, and other disabilities – often combined with poverty – comprise Sutarshia’s busy caseload (over the course of a year, Project Guardianship serves approximately 200 clients in total). She works closely with a group of skilled colleagues to cohesively address each person’s unique needs, tasks that might include managing their finances, helping them prepare meals and take medication, or serving as an informed and tireless advocate – all with the overarching goal of enabling these individuals to lead safe and dignified lives.

“I have an amazing team,” Sutarshia said with a smile. “We’re always able to lean on one another.”

One client’s moving story attested to the kindness and determination of Sutarshia and her team. On a recent weekday evening, Sutarshia was preparing dinner for her family when she received a phone call. It was a nurse from the hospital in Queens where her client, Robert Martinez*, had been admitted weeks earlier with pneumonia, a clot in his lung, a kidney infection, and other critical issues. Mr. Martinez’s condition was rapidly deteriorating.

“They told me he’s not going to make it through the night,” Sutarshia recalled.

Even though it was after her typical workday, Sutarshia knew immediately what she had to do. Moments later, she jumped in her car for the hour-long drive to Flushing to be with this 66-year-old man who originally hailed from the Dominican Republic and was once revered as the “domino champion of Sunset Park.”

“I didn’t want him to die alone,” she noted simply. Thus, for the next 12 hours, Sutarshia sat with Mr. Martinez, talking to him, reassuring him, and doing what she could to make him comfortable. When he peacefully slipped away, soothed by the beats of his beloved salsa music, Sutarshia was there to bear witness to a life filled with both struggles and joy, a life made better thanks to his devoted caregivers.

Estranged from his parents, Mr. Martinez moved in with his sister, but when she died more than a decade ago, he spiraled into bouts of alcoholism and depression, eventually getting evicted from his apartment and ending up in the subway. That’s where he was living when Project Guardianship stepped in.

With PG’s expertise, Mr. Martinez’s situation improved. Sutarshia secured housing for him, outfitted him with clothing and other essentials, and was in the process of replacing his green card when his health took a tragic turn, Sutarshia explained, fondly describing Mr. Martinez as “big hearted,” “prideful,” and “a great storyteller.”

Without a doubt, compassion and resourcefulness are fundamental to Sutarshia’s work at PG, where she has been a case manager for the past two years, bringing with her closely aligned experience assisting people in need.

When asked what she finds most rewarding about caregiving, Sutarshia said, "I like helping others without strong support systems. Someday it could be you or me or any of us."

Sutarshia’s early beginnings perhaps paved the way for her vocation as a caregiver. She was born prematurely and spent her first year in an incubator. As a pre-teen, she helped take care of her large family. “There’s fight in me,” she emphasized. “No conversation is too big or too small when you’re advocating for someone.”

As she mourns Mr. Martinez, Sutarshia continues to tend to the myriad needs of her remaining clients, giving her all, every day, to this all-important work at PG.

“If we don’t fight for, protect, and stand up for people who can’t stand up for themselves, then who will?”

During the month of June, Project Guardianship is spotlighting the critical work of caregivers. Get involved by honoring the caregivers in your life by making a donation to Project Guardianship. Donate here

* “Robert Martinez” is a pseudonym for a Project Guardianship client. Project Guardianship maintains the privacy and protects the identity of, and all information related to, our clients.