Like all of you, my world has been turned upside down over these past few weeks in ways I never imagined. One of the absolute best parts of my job are the constant reminders of love and support I get to observe every day across our programs. I can’t wait to get back to that daily occurrence, but for now, we’re all adapting.
Face-to-face interactions that are at the heart of everything we do at LifeLinks CLASS are being replaced by technology where possible. We’re hosting virtual events. Conducting virtual check-ins. Even the COVID-19 daily task force meetings are held virtually.
We know it’s difficult for everyone. In fact, family support center coordinator Eileen Lee recently told her story to the Washington Post – a powerful reminder to the country at large that caregivers in our community are facing difficult choices the likes of which they never imagined. Eileen has always been a fierce advocate for the people we serve. It’s a powerful story that I encourage you all to read and share!
But amidst the ordeal, I want to point out something that fills me with joy! And that’s the dedication of the direct support professionals at LifeLinks CLASS who are working feverishly every day for the people we serve! It truly is an honor and a privilege to be a part of a fiercely dedicated team that makes a difference in the lives of so many – and supports each other in the most challenging times.
I am in awe of the selfless acts of kindness that have become the norm over these past few weeks. Let me share a few examples with you:
Day program staff are volunteering to work shifts at our group homes across the region.
The residential staff put on a wonderful birthday party for one of our group home residents, filming the festivities to create a memorable family celebration.
The finance team, thanks to the herculean efforts of Sasha Ayala, have been able to procure sorely needed PPE for our direct care staff.
Day program and clinical staff are sharing virtual activities and sending packets of recommended activities to group homes and to homes of individuals whose day programs are suspended.
The award-winning Strive2Thrive program is engaging participants in the creation of a virtual calendar of events that keep mentors connected with their ASD-No ID mentees.
Our nurses, under the leadership of Alicia Mordach, have gone above and beyond in providing care for those who need it, where they need it, under challenging circumstances. Including training staff on the proper uses of PPE and assertively monitoring the medical care of all of our individuals for who a doctor’s office visit would pose a risk right now.
The facilities team has been keeping the supply chain at group homes uninterrupted and they have even converted space at Omni Way to be used as a quarantine center in case of emergency.
The students at Merrimack College who work with us as part of the New Balance Healthy Balance program have stepped up, creating a YouTube channel for participants in the program to stay active and connected.
We’re working very hard to support our staff and to provide them with the resources they need to provide for your loved ones and keep them safe and healthy during this unprecedented moment in time. We are learning and changing how we operate in order to keep everyone safe while maintaining some sense of routine and regularity in order to install confidence and ally fears. It is a challenge, but one we have taken on wholeheartedly.
We will continue to keep you updated and engaged as we manage through this. And let’s continue to do our part to flatten the curve. Follow the CDC guidelines. Practice social distancing. Wash your hands. And know that your LifeLinks CLASS team is here for you. Now, and always.
CEO Jean Phelps was recently interviewed by Vox in a feature story on the challenges that people with intellectual disabilities are facing during the pandemic.
“In order for a resident of a group home or other residential service to have that full life, they need dedicated, compassionate staff who can support them, guide and mentor them, and help them to achieve the personal goals that each has for their own lives,” said Jean Phelps, CEO of LifeLinks CLASS, an organization that provides support to people living with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Chelmsford, Massachusetts.
Before COVID-19, Phelps told me, it was hard enough to recruit staff to help residents, given the low wages and that many people don’t appropriately value the work. With day programs and work opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities shut down during the pandemic, some agencies were having issues maintaining safe staffing levels with residents being at home more often.”
We are closely monitoring developments related to the Novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, as the health and safety of the people we serve and our staff and is our top priority.
First, it’s important to remember that even though the risk for coronavirus is currently low; the flu risk in Massachusetts remains high. These simple precautions will help prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses:
Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, using a tissue or the inside of your elbow
Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and warm water frequently and use hand sanitizer
If you have a fever or feel sick, stay home and call your healthcare provider
Get the flu vaccine — it is not too late!
LifeLinks CLASS has always followed the guidelines for universal precautions and we utilize stringent cleaning and sanitation processes as most of the persons we support have underlying health issues. Measures are already in place to prevent the spread of viruses and bacteria that can cause the flu, coronavirus, cold, and other contagious illnesses including:
Day program facilities and group homes are cleaned and sanitized daily with a bleach and water solution
Hand sanitizer dispensers are readily available at all of our locations
Staff are trained by our nurses on tactics to prevent the spread of airborne illnesses, including proper handwashing
However, creating a safe environment is a community effort, and we need your help. We will ask people we serve, staff, visitors including family members, vendors and others from the community to stay home if you are showing signs of an airborne illness including fever, cough, and sore throat. Additionally, we do have a robust continuity of operations plan that was just recently updated that will be activated in the event of a local coronavirus outbreak.
If you’re interested in learning more facts about the coronavirus, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) launched mass.gov/2019coronavirus, a web portal that includes extensive information and the latest updates.
Unfortunately, it appears that we will be confronted with the COVID-19 virus for some time still to come. LifeLinks CLASS will continue to provide information and updates to our community on an as-needed basis and we are always here to answer your questions or address concerns. Feel free to reach out to program managers, directors, clinical or nursing staff, or even my office if you have further questions.