Penn-Mar’s COVID Task Force has been discussing and planning for our reopening since shortly after the March 13th closure. On August 3rd that dream was finally realized when we officially opened the doors at our Far Hills and Maryland Line locations to begin delivering day services to a limited number of people.
It was exciting to be able to achieve our goal of providing a safe and meaningful opening where the people we support could once again connect and engage with each other and the community at large in ways that made sense for them individually.
Our person-centered approach acknowledges that each person and their situation is uniquely different. And nowhere is that perspective more meaningful than during this pandemic when we all find ourselves making decisions based on what we feel is safe and prudent for ourselves and our families.
Should we dine out at restaurants? Send our children back to the classroom? Return to our place of employment or community activities?
Our Penn-Mar families have been very cautious about moving their loved ones from the quarantine phase back to life out in the community. But for many of them, the time is finally right. Yet I can assure you we did not feel any pressure to reopen, with the exception of the pressure we’ve put on ourselves internally to continually stay in front of the situation.
As we moved from red, to yellow, to the green phase, trying to determine what made sense for “the moment,” our experienced teams traded in-person supports for virtual ones and learned a lot along the way about new technologies that hold promise for future services.
But virtual supports are not an optimum solution for everyone. People have a desire to connect with others, not just the people they are living with. There’s nothing like sitting in the same room with another human being to make an experience more enjoyable.
Our COVID Task Force considered guidance from DDA (MD Developmental Disabilities Administration) and ODP (PA Office of Developmental Programs) to prepare our own opening plan designed around the Dignity of Risk that we espouse for all of the people with disabilities we support.
In developing our day program opening plan, we connected with each person and their team member to talk about what steps going forward made sense for them. We took into consideration their medical history, their ability to be out-and-about psychologically and emotionally, even their tolerance for wearing a mask around others.
All of this meticulous, intentional planning was more than worth it. During the initial opening phase it was so gratifying to witness the excitement of people and team members returning to services, so happy to be with friends they hadn’t seen for months. It reminded me of the joy we felt when we were younger and reunited with our classmates after the summer holiday.
So far, things are going well. But there are still challenges.
We have schools starting up which will put pressure on our team members who are working parents having to deal with home schooling and hybrid learning environments.
Currently we have no plans to open our day services to a larger group as we need more time under our belts to make assessments with safety concerns being our top priority. Should anyone test positive in the program, we would have to close for a period of time which would also affect the employment status of our team members.
What is clear, and what has made it possible to survive the most challenging days during these last five months, is that our team members are an amazing group of people. From our DSPs – our tireless, creative, capable front line team members – who are so essential to maintaining the quality of life for the people we support, to our behind-the-scenes support personnel in HR, finance, maintenance, IT and administration who have proven that they are willing to do whatever it takes to keep all of our people safe.