My role as a Residential Program Manager is to oversee four residential group homes in Pennsylvania where 14 people with intellectual disabilities are supported by a staff of up to 30 people.
My duties vary from supervising team members, to screening and hiring applicants, to training new team members and ensuring that our group homes are running according to state regulations.
It’s a big job and its demands have increased exponentially with the COVID-19 crisis.
Since the crisis began, all program managers and directors have been video conferencing every day to discuss current COVID-related issues.
There is a lot of training involved to help both the staff and the individuals we support understand what is going on and how they can stay safe. This can be difficult as there are many moving parts.
Most of our people have a general understanding of the situation. They talk to me about social distancing and have learned to trade handshakes for air high fives and to cough or sneeze into their elbows. Some have a low tolerance for wearing masks for an extended period of time so it’s important to develop an individual plan for each person we support to help them follow the protocols correctly.
The people we support are adjusting to things with patience but staying occupied during the day can sometimes be challenging. Many of our people are routine-oriented and long for time with their peers in the Day Program. All of those activities are now taking place in the homes. They also want to go to church and visit their families. Our staff will often drive them by their family homes, honking and waving, to reconnect with loved ones.
The individuals that we support, like us, are anxious to get back to their old routines.
For those with jobs in the community, we are in constant contact with their employers. Some individuals chose not to work during the crisis while others were advised not to come in.
Those who do still work must comply with stringent protocols to minimize their exposure to the virus, such as showering and laundering their clothes as soon as they come home. We also disinfect all vehicles that transport them to and from their jobs.
One of our residents who works at a hospital was literally brought to tears at the sight of the nursing staff she works with standing outside the hospital waving to her as she passed in the car, telling her how much they missed her. Special moments like this make it all seem worthwhile.
Currently we are preparing our team members to navigate the Green Phase in Pennsylvania. Our families need guidance on when they can visit and when their loved ones can come home.
So much thought has to be put into so many things. Every day there is something new to consider or revisit. Yet there is definitely a sense of appreciation all-around for how our information sharing is helping to anticipate and resolve issues before they become problems.
It has been amazing to see so many of our team members step-up to the moment. They, too, have had their own lives flipped upside down with schools closed and family members working from home. But they are focused on the work at hand with a renewed sense of pride as essential workers whose opinions are welcomed and respected.
This crisis has forced all of us to embrace a totally different way of functioning. As the days have progressed, there is this feeling of, “Wow we’ve got this thing together.” Every issue we tackle is resolved from a perspective of innovation and this can-do attitude has definitely brought with it a sense of togetherness.