Agencies, workers seek to stem spread of coronavirus to residences for disabled

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From increasing sanitation efforts to practicing social distancing, local organizations that help or serve the disabled, are stepping up to ensure the safety, health and well-being of the people they support, as well as staff members.

“Before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic on March 11, we had already taken action by implementing increased sanitization measures at all sites, including our residences,” said The Arc Oneida-Lewis Chapter Chief Communications Officer Mark Dudek. “A prevention plan was put into effect, with all staff notified of the new procedures in place, with education provided through mandatory infection control and prevention training presentations.” 

He continued, “We enhanced screening measures for visitors to all sites and residences, requiring them to complete a health assessment questionnaire. They could enter only if they passed this screening. And we communicated all of these new measures with the people we support and families through direct mailings and frequent updates to our social media sites and website.”

The Arc Oneida-Lewis Chapter has set up a specific email address to field questions related to the novel coronavirus outbreak: COVID-19@thearcolc.org. 

The Arc has sent information about the agency, the population it serves, and demographics to both health departments in Oneida and Lewis counties, so that those agencies would also be prepared, should a person the Arc supports or employees contract the coronavirus, Dudek said.

“We remain in communication as new policies and procedures emerge,” the communications officer said. “After monitoring the situation and potential risk, on March 16, The Arc initiated the temporary suspension of our Day Programs and Pre-Vocational services.  This was a step we felt was necessary to protect the people who attend our programs while assuring the prevention of infection and any spread of COVID-19 at your facilities.”

He said the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities then mandated the very same suspension of programs statewide effective 5 p.m. March 17, a day after the Arc’s mandate was imposed. “Before the implementing of our suspension, we reached out to all families who receive Day Services and asked how this would affect them and what, if any, help we could provide in the interim,” Dudek said.

As of 11 p.m. Wednesday, March 18, OPWDD mandated a temporary suspension of visitation to all Arc Individualized Residential Alternatives (IRAs), except when medically or clinically necessary. Families were asked if they could take their loved home for the time being to provide care, with some opting to do so. 

“In recognizing the emotional impact of these restrictions on our families, and the people we support, we immediately offered alternatives to physical visitation through The Arc’s NVITE Telehealth program,” Dudek explained. “All of our houses are equipped with teleconferencing equipment, which enables families and loved ones to visit remotely through video chat by using a computer, phone or tablet. Families have already started to connect with one parent emailing us to say, ‘I have used it twice to talk to my son at his residence. I really appreciate your making this available to parents at this time. It is amazing!’”

Interested families are asked to call 315-982-2063 for instruction. 

Community outings in Arc residences have been canceled, and only essential trips possible at this time. Residents are encouraged to take walks and get fresh air while practicing all recommended guidelines for social distancing set forth by the CDC and state while doing so.

The Arc is also monitoring food and other supplies at its residences.

“We are maintaining a stock supply, non-perishable food, water, toilet paper, and cleaning supplies in the event that a program requires anything that is not readily available in the community,” Dudek said. “We are also in contact with our pharmacy and other vendors to ensure their availability to provide us with additional resources if necessary.”

Dudek said there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 among those they support or employees, and have policies in place as to how to immediately react should a case arise.

“The Arc, Oneida-Lewis Executive Management teams and Board of Directors remain in constant communication, along with The Arc New York statewide agency, OPWDD, the state Department of Health, local agencies, and others to ensure all rules and regulations set forth by Governor Cuomo and New York State are being followed while information remains fluid at this time,” he said.

Jennifer O’Sullivan, director of Communications for OPWDD, said the office is taking the threat of COVID-19 to the people they support very seriously and has activated its emergency response team in Albany to closely monitor all reports of possible contact across the state.

“We have released guidance to staff and voluntary provider agencies on infection control practices and visitation at our facilities and will continue to respond as warranted as new cases of COVID-19 emerge,” O’Sullivan said.

Upstate Cerebral Palsy also reported there are no confirmed cases from its campuses, and are working to ensure residents and staff are safe.

“The health and safety of the entire Upstate Cerebral Palsy community remains our highest priority, especially in these extraordinary times. There are currently no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in any of the Upstate Cerebral Palsy programs,” said Julie Batson Suprenant, director of Communications for UCP. “We continue to monitor all guidance from local, state and federal agencies in order to keep the children and adults we support as well as our staff as safe and healthy as possible.”

In an effort to minimize the spread of COVID-19, all visitation for UCP’s residential programs has been temporarily suspended. In an effort to balance health and safety with social-emotional needs and prevent isolation, UCP is offering communication and updates to family members at their request, as well as video-chat with families through a variety of platforms.  

“Strict health precautions are also being observed according to those outlined by the CDC and other regulatory agencies, including frequent hand washing, social distancing, use of face masks and frequent cleaning and disinfecting of all areas in the residence,” Batson-Suprenant said. “We continue to update our staff, families and the community on changes within our programs through pages on our website, upstatecp.org, specifically dedicated to Covid-19 information, updates and resources.”

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