During the latest virus surge, area agencies serving individuals with intellectual disabilities have been working hard to keep staff and clients safe as they strive to maintain as many services as possible. Virtual communication technology has been an important factor in helping clients and their families stay connected.
Residential and day programs, such as those provided by the Arc of Southington and MidState Arc in Meriden, have been coping as best they can with the additional layer of responsibilities the latest troubles the pandemic has brought.
“This is the worst I’ve ever seen in my whole career,” said Tricia Gibney, executive director of the Arc of Southington, in an interview with the Record-Journal. “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.”
Arc services include advocacy, education, information and individualized programs for people with intellectual disabilities, and their families.
With the omicron variant, outbreaks among staff have been a problem. MidState Arc closed three day programs for 10 days in December. The disruption required enhanced cleaning for facilities, people going into quarantine and just as one program was ready to start up, another needed to be shut down.
The CEO of the MidState Arc, Pamela Fields, said some individuals the organization serves face mental health challenges due to social isolation. “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.”
Another Meriden agency, Helping People Excel, also has used 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,” said Joseph Cianciullo, director of services at Helping People Excel.
For some individuals with disabilities, switching to virtual services was a positive. Some people might not feel comfortable interacting in person or making eye contact, for example, according to 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.”
With all the woes we’ve experienced in the past couple of years, it’s clear that virtual connections have made the situation a little more bearable. These area agencies, under the most trying circumstances, have done a great job helping clients and families adapt to virtual technology. Recognizing the value of virtual and finding ways to incorporate it into support services was a smart move.