During the latest virus surge, agencies that serve those with intellectual disabilities have to make adjustments to keep staff and clients safe, while maintaining as many services as possible.
“This is the worst I’ve ever seen in my whole career,” said Tricia Gibney, executive director of the Arc of Southington. “Even when COVID broke out, at least we were isolating people and things were locked down where it was kind of controlled where now with this variant, it’s widespread and very catchy.”
The Arc of Southington provides advocacy, education, information and an array of individualized services and supports to people with intellectual disabilities, and their families, according to its website.
With the omicron variant, outbreaks among staff has been a particular problem.
“We had to close three of our day programs in December because they had numerous outbreaks...we shut them down for 10 days and cleaned everything up and gave people time to recoup and quarantine on their own,” said Pamela Fields, CEO of the MidState Arc in Meriden, which also provides a variety of services to those with intellectual disabilities. “We just started opening those three programs up and we had another program that closed down at the end of last week for the same reasons.”
With staffing shortages, Gibney has learned that “your job is not just your job, it is many other hats.”
“I’m not just doing a CEO job, I’m doing any other job that I can put my hands on to help,” Gibney said.
Fields said MidState Arc’s residential services have been operating throughout the pandemic, with some restrictions. Video chatting programs were added so residents could communicate with loved ones when they were unable to meet due to Covid restrictions.
As a result of the pandemic, Fields said some of the individuals the organization serves are facing mental health challenges due to social isolation.
“A lot of our individuals remained isolated at home or at the group home so we’ve seen increased issues with mental health...depression, the social isolation,” Fields said. “We’ve again tried to reach out to families and really connect them to make sure we can do some video chatting with the individuals.”
Joseph Cianciullo, director of services at Helping People Excel in Meriden, said the organization also took advantage of virtual services to supplement in person services.
“Luckily most of the individuals we did virtual support with had staff support with them there so the staff was able to walk them through those types of things,” Cianciullo said. “Other individuals, say for example that live in their own apartment, they’re independent enough where they are able to function on an iPad so we haven’t had many issues with that.”
For some individuals with disabilities, switching to virtual services was a positive.
“There’s some people out there that you forget about that might not necessarily feel comfortable interacting with you in person, looking at you in the face, making eye contact, that sort of thing,” said Kevin Bronson, director of communications, legislation and regulations for the Department of Developmental Services of Connecticut. “Technology has really helped those sort of people interact with people more.”