How Has COVID-19 Affected the Disabled Community?
It has been a very busy year. The Baddour Center and the disabled community as a whole have faced some unique challenges in the wake of a worldwide pandemic. However, we wanted to take the opportunity to sit down and answer some important questions we’ve been asked. We’re always striving to be a reliable resource for special needs individuals and their families, and so we thought it was important to offer our insight into how COVID-19 has impacted us and the lives of our residents.
What has been the outlook since the onset of COVID-19?
The short answer is mostly positive in a “This too shall pass…” kind of way. Thus far, the experience compares to a roller-coaster ride. We first believed we could “keep it out,” and then, almost overnight, we couldn’t (and didn’t). Our staff showed incredible focus and selfless teamwork during the “Camp Corona” period. As we gained control of the outbreak, we have greater respect for the potential dangers the virus presents, yet we also have the resolve that only comes through having been tested and a little “battle-scarred.” Through it all, there really has been more positivity than negativity and fear.
What did the emotional landscape look like at the beginning of COVID-19?
It was scary and stressful. In the beginning, so much was unknown. The available information was all over the board, with much of it conflicting. We planned and prepared the best we could, involving everyone, communicating frequently and candidly with everyone (including residents’ families and our Board of Trustees), and taking advantage of other organizations’ experiences to date. We sought input from our Medical Director, who was and is an excellent voice of reason from the health and care side of things. We started with and committed to the mindset that regardless of what happens we must keep marching forward and caring for people in the personal and quality way that families have come to expect from us.
How were Baddour’s residents affected?
Their lives, primarily their day-to-day routines, were significantly altered. We literally locked down the campus on March 15, ceasing off-campus activities and preventing others (including families) from visiting. Baddour Custom Packaging partners experienced their own disruptions, and this affected our workload. Of course, we initially weren’t sure how to ensure work in a safe and clean environment. The same issue popped up with fitness, choir practice, art class, parties, and the like. Baddour staples (and favorite activities) like going to the movies and shopping at Walmart stopped suddenly. Worst of all, every time a resident asked when this would end, none of us had a reliable and certain answer.
How were caretakers/loved ones affected?
One can only imagine what telling a resident he or she can’t go “home-home” is like, and vice versa. It’s tough! Many residents are accustomed to being with their families on Easter, Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, Father’s Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day. We “missed” them all. A few families did understandably pick up their loved one before or during this period; however, so many more recognized and affirmed our ability to care for their loved ones through the pandemic. A number recognized that they too were/are at “high risk,” so we were ultimately seeking to protect both sides.
What was it like at the beginning of quarantine?
Again, it was scary and stressful. We had a plan and met weekly (often, more) to review, revise, and constantly adjust what we were doing to best meet the at-the-time needs. Containment in this setting presents many challenges. Our initial fears were compounded by the fact that so many residents initially testing positive for COVID-19 were asymptomatic. In retrospect a blessing, it is hard to fight something that isn’t apparent. We don’t have enough space or time to fully explain here the beauty and blessing of “Camp Corona,” or sing the praises of everyone who selflessly worked in the trenches at the height of the outbreak, but we are most thankful that the 61 people who tested positive (i.e., the total number of residents and employees) are well and remain healthy today.
What were some challenges the disabled community faced?
Among many things, we recall initially wondering if we can successfully accomplish the “basics.” For example could we:
- Manage social distancing?
- Sustain over a lengthy period of hyper-vigilant hygiene practices?
- Wear masks?
These three examples alone present unique and immense challenges. Let’s face it, Baddour is a touchy-feely kind of place. Many residents and employees are huggers. We also like to visit. Keeping persons at least six feet apart and having to repeat yourself so others can understand what you said is tedious, at best, if not maddening. Nonetheless, we adjusted and have recovered remarkably well. Kudos to residents and staff members! Also, the question “How best to separate sick and un-sick persons” initially lingered. We hoped and prayed it would be moot, however, we have experienced it.
Have any new, unexpected issues become apparent?
We remain very concerned about whether or not “infected” residents can re-acquire the virus. We admittedly struggle with how fast to return to normal activities, choosing to err on the side of caution and over-patience. We recognize that while “making life fun in the bubble” is achievable, it’s harder to make life fun for those not in the bubble while respecting the many restrictions needed to prevent further outbreaks.
Were there any unexpected benefits?
Proving to ourselves we could get through it was priceless. We cannot emphasize enough the blessing of working together in a difficult situation to overcome it. These circumstances forced the collective focus on a single matter. The confidence families showed in us was both humbling and overwhelming. The pandemic also forced us to do some things differently and to try new things that we might not otherwise have done. We should, can, and will continue to learn from this.
How did social distancing impact residents?
We addressed this already, but this is arguably our toughest challenge. We are a social place. We do many things together. Live, learn, work, worship, and play all happens together. We could not stop this entirely, but we learned how to better manage these activities to sway in our favor the likelihood of a safer and healthier environment.
Many families have felt the financial effects of COVID-19. Was financial aid for the disabled affected in any way?
We are certain the pandemic affected families, just like it has affected us. We cannot speak to “financial aid” per se. To our knowledge, Social Security payments were not affected or delayed. The Center received several grants and earmarked donations specifically for COVID-related expenses. Like the world around us, the market and economy ups and downs have also affected us, but we remain financially strong. This is a blessing! Our newly-introduced comprehensive campaign, Building the Best Life, was stunted, taking a backseat to more pressing COVID-related matters, but we fully expect to resume the campaign and regain any lost momentum.
Did quality of life improve or become more difficult?
We cannot say the quality of life improved or has become more difficult. The bottom line is the environment is different. We have likely given more individual attention to persons simply because we’re much more in tune with what’s happening on campus. With much less activity off of campus – something, by the way, that residents LOVE, and to which we’ll return – we’ve been able to concentrate all our energy here. Maintaining a good balance is key, as we slowly re-open and introduce these experiences again.
Have other disabled communities shared their experiences with you?
Yes. We learned from organizations that were hit before us, including senior care communities in addition to communities serving persons with intellectual disabilities and autism. This was very helpful. In turn, we also shared information with other communities.
What are some similarities or differences between those, if any?
We know communities handled/are handling the pandemic in diverse ways. Some entirely shut down, sending people home for a period. Some, like us, remained open and worked through it. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. We believe organizations must consider their own circumstances, acting wisely, and using their best and most careful approach.
What are the biggest changes residents and caretakers have had to make?
Cancellation of and restrictions on home visits come to mind. We love families and never want to be an obstruction there. This includes families visiting us. We want folks coming to campus and attending events. This is even more important as we open new and renovated homes. We’ve already “re-opened” in this case, easing back into family-resident visits. On October 1st, we resumed airline travel and anticipate a full slate of holiday travel, barring no further setbacks. We are requiring pre- and post-return testing as precautionary measures.
Have these changes been effective?
At face value, they appear effective, given we initially shut down visits entirely. We’ve experienced no issues since re-opening our doors. We are nervous about airline travel primarily due to others’ lack of vigilance. We’ll know more soon.
What are some resources that have been helpful to families or residents?
No specific external resources come to mind except we did share early on much information about safe and proper healthcare. Our Medical Director and his team provided this. They’ve been closely engaged with us since the beginning. This was very comforting. We took much of this information and passed along to families, employees, and residents. We required residents to attend “classes,” where the importance of and “how-to” of social distancing, mask-wearing, good hygiene, good sanitation practices, etc. were addressed and modeled. We’ve certainly not perfected these things but think our overall compliance is consequently stronger.
What steps did Baddour take to ensure the safety of their residents?
We’ve touched on some of this, but we implemented a variety of effective programs to combat COVID-19. We initiated Camp Corona, which included a highly-secure quarantine site. We essentially took over the Community Life Building because it has a kitchen, multiple rooms and areas where residents could spread out, multiple bathrooms, activity areas, and shower facilities, among other things. Of course, we later realized the effects of “taking this away from” all other residents. Again, our staff outside the bubble did a remarkable job of taking Community Life to them in their respective homes at the height of the outbreak. We did many activities outdoors during this time and also spread across campus, using other buildings for activities that we didn’t previously use for that purpose. We must already consider what we will do if another outbreak occurs in the winter months when the outdoors might be far less reliable. Frequent virus testing, taking temps, using pulse oximeters, increased monitoring are other measures that became part of our routine.
What new changes have been made that will stick around beyond the pandemic?
Leading activities in smaller groups will likely stick. We’ve simply had too much success to stop. Greater attention, calmer, and happier residents – these are plusses. We do miss a number of our large gatherings – i.e., Awards Day, dances and special events, etc. These are not going away. We’re still in assessment mode and hardly “out of the woods” with regard to the virus threat. We’re certain further change is coming.
Baddour is Dedicated To Health, Safety, and Enrichment
Every day presents a new challenge, but we're tackling every obstacle head-on. As always, our first priority is the health and safety of our residents and their families. To find out more about the Baddour Center and how we enrich the lives of our community members, contact us to schedule a tour.