We are an essential business, so yes we are “open”, but it is fair to say things look very different this week. Here’s an update about how we are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Social distancing at work
A week ago, while we were providing mandatory in-service training for our Personal Care Aides – including a refresher on universal precautions, we were disinfecting high-touch surfaces twice a day, installing plexiglass shields at the receptionist desks, and making major moves around the office. Chairs in the lobbies had been thinned out and separated by six feet of space, and we were moving staff around the offices to increase the distance between us. By the end of the week, we were identifying staff needed on site to continue our essential operations and setting up other people to work remotely. We were transforming program space into office space to give us even more social distance.
Today, there are also far fewer people in our offices. Many staff are now working remotely while we maintain continuity in critical services that support people with disabilities. Desks and computers continue to be moved as we transform meeting rooms into private offices for those who need to be on site. I’d like to say it is seemless, but that’s not true. We have had glitches and confusion, but our staff have maintained a great attitude through it all.
Although we need to continue our essential operations, we know that we need to protect our consumers and ourselves. Everyone who comes into our office has their temperature taken with a non-contact thermometer. We aren’t tracking this information, but staff are asked to remember their temperature so they can identify if it begins to go up. This provides another layer of protection to identify any issues early.
Sharing information on COVID-19 in ASL
On March 6th, we posted an ASL vlog by Brooke Erickson – CDR’s Assistant Director of Deaf Services – providing some basic information about COVID-19. http://cdrnys.org/blog/uncategorized/coronavirus-covid-19-tips-for-the-deaf-community/ We have followed up on that vlog by adding an ASL interpreter to a webinar on Universal Precautions provided by the New York Association on Independent Living and posting that to our website. This is a great resource for Deaf folks who want to brush up on their understanding of universal precautions. http://cdrnys.org/blog/programs-services/universal-precautions-for-open-doors/
Last week, staff developed a small resource handbook to help us meet the needs of our consumers during the outbreak. We have also included information that can help us support our attendants and personal care aides during this difficult time. Some people have already run short on food and thanks to some generous donors – including a couple Mormon families in Palmyra who were returning to Utah – we are getting donations of food to help meet their needs. We appreciate the donations of non-perishable food.
Calling our consumers to check on their well-being
We recognize that the people we serve face some serious risks from COVID-19, so we have proactively started making wellness calls to our consumers. These calls started last week, when our Transition staff began to call all of the people who transitioned into the community during the last year. People appreciated the calls and we have now expanded that model. Today, staff – most of whom are working remotely – are calling approximately 3,000 consumers to check on them. We are making sure they have what they need – food, attendant services, etc. – and checking to see if they are experiencing any symptoms. Where we identify issues, staff are able to assist people in getting their needs met. We will regularly reach out to them to see how they are doing and provide some peer support during these difficult times.
Making protective gear
Last week, we recognized that we would run out of surgical masks and that most of the people we serve won’t ever have access to them. We understand that with such a serious shortage of masks, medical personnel who are taking care of all of us will be the priority recipients. After all, hospital staff in Washington state were making protective gear with office supplies! We had read about folks in China making their own cloth masks so we decided to do the same. Building on what we saw online and with some additional research, we have developed a prototype and pattern. We have started organizing a small squad of people who sew – including some of our staff who are working from home – to make these reusable cloth masks. We have purchased enough supplies so that our consumers, attendants, personal care aides and staff can each have two reusable masks as well as two weeks of filtering materials. This project literally may be the difference between life and death for someone. If you want to help us, contact Damita Peace at (585) 442-6470 or DPeace@rcil.org.