Alison and the team from New Age Services (NAS)
On Saturday March 21st, I read that a staff member within our agency had tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Or maybe it was the Sunday March 22nd? Life had not become a blur at point, but it was about to. On Monday March 23rd, the agency sent a memo explaining that staff would work their contracted hours at a single group living home. My hours are normally split between two Group Living Models, one home where two young men with developmental disabilities reside, and the other home is a harm reduction model where three women live who have both addiction struggles and developmental disabilities reside. We are a tight knit staff at the first house and leaving at the end of the day not knowing when I would be back was more emotional than I expected.
Other than me, the regular staff who work in this home were in quarantine due to exposure with the staff who tested positive, and one client had been tested at this point. Our House Supervisor was also self-isolating as well at this point, but what this all meant had not yet sunk in. At the end of two days filled with challenges and ebbs and flows of adrenaline my brain had kicked into overdrive and was spinning with ideas on how to keep up with the cooking, the regular cleaning, the extra disinfecting, the PPE’s, and how we could help our clients adhere to their quarantines in light of their developmental disabilities coupled with their addictions.
Eight days of double shifts (sometimes more) followed and six out of seven nights I spent at one house either as the AON (awake overnight) or trying to get a few hours of sleep. Those of us not in quarantine were doing what we could to keep the house running and support our clients to the best of our abilities.
The agency had staff drop off N95 masks and other additional supplies throughout the week as things were able to be purchased. I spent time on the phone, texting, and over emailing to communicate the current needs of the house. None of us has been through this before. It is one thing to read about PPE and disinfecting and isolating, and another to be the person on the inside the home putting it all into practice. We were already a COVID-19 positive house by the time we had links to helpful videos for donning and doffing.
There were 5 new casual staff in 36 hours to orient to new PPE protocols, clients with complicated needs, and for most of them, demonstrating what a Group Living Model looked like. Try to picture maintaining the tasks of daily life and adding the new task of living with Covid-19! Groceries, making meals, assisting with personal hygiene, emotional support, engaging activities, comfort, cravings, loneliness, cleaning, cleaning and more cleaning. And then try to explain why we looked like aliens in our PPE gear!
It was a grueling week, physically and emotionally. At the same time, there was something exhilarating about it. My creative problem-solving skills and resourcefulness, my leadership and management skills - all these found a new outlet and it was a release for skills that had been under- practiced in the past couple of years. I’m incredibly thankful to the NAS team members who came to the house to help, knowingly putting themselves at risk at a time when we were all in the beginning stages of learning how to manage a Group Home in the middle of an outbreak. I’m grateful to the NAS team “on the outside” who hunted down and delivered supplies, made inquiries, spent hours in Zoom meetings and on the phone with clients, doctors and nurses, and members of the government as they sought to support the staff and clients inside the house.
This here is Samie,
Samie has always kept a very strong relationship with his mother and father. Samie’s parents make the trip to visit him at his home almost daily to bring him supplies, or just to even say hello. During this Covid-19 pandemic, visits with Samie’s parents have had to be altered for the protection of himself, his parents, and his tremendous daily Support Workers. No matter what the situation is, children and parents will always have the need for interaction with one another. Even more so for people with disabilities who are unable to understand this virus and the effects it can/may cause. Our Support Workers are more important then ever to keep the families safe and to maintain people like Samie’s emotional and psychological well-being, while continuing to find ways to make these visits safe for Samie and his parents. Let’s acknowledge our Support Workers to ensure this type of care continues.
A Story from Calgary
I work for an organization in Calgary that works with high-risk individuals who have disabilities and mental illnesses. I am a one-to-one support worker. Getting through a regular day is already an incredible challenge for them, as they have a difficult time handling things such as change, interpersonal conflict, and feeling like they are misunderstood by the world around them. Throw a pandemic into the mix and it’s just another stressor for them to deal with.
Normally, our individuals look forward to going out into the community, which is part of the organization’s mission. Having that taken away from them is a big deal. In addition, they are also not allowed to visit their families at this time, which only adds to their stress. To top it all off they struggle to understand social distancing and are unable to understand the need to practice basic hygiene, such as handwashing for a full 20 seconds.
This is all to say that on top of the regular stressors our clients and staff have to deal with, COVID-19 is adding a lot of pressure to that. We would love to be at home isolating to keep ourselves and our families as safe as possible, but instead, we are going into our workplace every day. I would just like to have the efforts of disability and mental illness support workers recognized in this stressful time!
This is Delia, she is a mother of one of the individuals who we support. Delia resides on Tsuu T’ina Nation. She has a close relationship to her son, and usually has regular visits with him every month. This year, she was unable to celebrate her sons birthday due to COVID-19. Delia and her son only have each other, and the bond is inseparable. Her sons emotional and physical well being also is effected when he is unable to visit or reach out by phone. During these hard times as family’s are unable to be together, we as an agency acknowledge the importance of those to stay connected. As we wait for life to get back to “normal”, Delia was visited today by one of her sons Support Workers who drove to her home and provided her with a cell phone to be able to stay in contact with him.
Meet Tesfaye and Max
They joined the weekly ZOOM staff meeting at their organization to give an update about their experience of supporting 2 clients who live together who have Covid-19.
Upon confirmation of the Covid-19 diagnosis, both stepped up immediately and without hesitation to support their clients throughout the mandatory 14 day quarantine period. When not on shift, both Tesfaye and Max are on mandatory self-isolation themselves. This means they are allowed to leave their home to go directly to and from work only. While at home they are isolating themselves from their families.
Max and Tesfaye are shining examples of the highly skilled and complex work that countless other disability sector professionals provide across the province. Their ability to deliver highly specialized medical supports in response to Covid-19, in addition to the already complex clinical and mental health supports their clients require, only highlights the important work being done by disability workers across Alberta.
When asked why he has remained with his clients in such a difficult time, Tesfaye very eloquently summed up the key underpinning of this often overlooked group of skilled and committed workers when he simply said, “We get to work with these individuals over the years through many good times. We are not about to runaway now during the bad times.”
This is Rob
He usually visits his mum every Friday as an important part of his weekly routine. Because of COVID-19, Rob was not able to see his mum in person. They kept contact through technology, but it was not the same. In order for Rob and his mum to “lay eyes” on each other, his worker takes him for a drive-by wave and a “hello” from the street. That way Rob knows his mum is okay and they get a chance to speak at a distance.
Support workers are finding creative ways to maintain the personal relationships that are so important for good mental and physical health in these challenging times.