Something that has been interesting to me amid the COVID-19 global pandemic is the dramatically different ways that people are being affected by as well as responding to the pandemic. The resounding and unifying cry has been that we’re all in this together, but as time has gone on, it’s become increasingly evident that not everyone started off on equal footing when the crisis hit. Different communities have encountered different difficulties. For us social workers, this means that our jobs have now become focused on generating creative ideas to keep at-risk populations safe, healthy, and as happy as possible.
For our CILA Program—a housing program for adults with intellectual disabilities—it meant that we have had to find ways to support our residents as they process these changes, to help them stay engaged while they were no longer able to work, and to help them to continue to make progress as the dreariness of the shelter in place order sets in. When the shelter in place order went into effect, we immediately quarantined all our homes. Residents could not leave except to go on walks or to go for a drive with an available staff member. The only people allowed to enter and exit the homes were small groups of specifically selected staff to work at one home and only that home. Our initial and top priority was to ensure that the SARS-CoV-2 virus had the smallest chance possible of entering and being spread throughout the homes.
As we spent the majority of our efforts on contingency planning, it became obvious that we needed to do more. We not only were responsible for protecting our individuals from the virus, but also for giving our residents the ability to thrive under the new conditions. On the second day of the shelter in place order, one of our residents called me on my office phone. Hearing his tearful voice on the other end of the line, as he asked me why he couldn’t go to work, and it filled me with profound sorrow. He voiced to me how hopeless he felt and told me, “I think I don’t even really want to be alive.” He simply could not understand why he was not allowed to do something that gave his life so much meaning. While he continued to process his feelings on the changes he was experiencing, a nagging voice in the back of my head said, “It’s not enough.”
Since that day, our team has strived to find ways to bridge the gaps caused by COVID-19. Something that I have grown to love so much about the field of intellectual and developmental disabilities is the way that professionals in the field come together to provide services to our residents. We are blessed to work with a team consisting of board-certified behavior analysts, service coordinators, counselors, crisis intervention team members, physicians, psychiatrists, job coaches, and many others. Without this networking effect, there is absolutely no way that we would be able to meet the needs of our residents, let alone evolve to fill service gaps created by the current pandemic.
One of our Behavior Analysts came up with an exciting and creative idea to add programming for our residents that was specifically geared toward COVID-19 education. This education would include a creative spin, however; “Zombie Apocalypse Survival Training.” It would address many of the needed educational pieces for COVID-19, but in a much more fun and understandable way. Many of our residents have had difficulty understanding the COVID-19 outbreak, so finding ways to communicate the changes has not been an easy task.
Regardless of the situations that people have been subjected to by the COVID-19 crisis, one thing is very clear—in the midst of hopelessness, people grow closer together in a crisis, even if that means they must be physically further apart. For our residents, it means that a vast network of professionals in the field have all pulled together to guarantee that individuals with disabilities are receiving the same standards of care. Even though conditions are not currently ideal, we are grateful to our team and for the many people fighting to ensure that our residents continue to live their best lives.