Group Homes hunkering down during quarantine

A MOST program participant restocks a vending machine in February. The program, run by the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes, has closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Photo by David Stuck

In response to the coronavirus crisis, the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes has revamped its services for people with disabilities in the Washington area, including scheduling changes for staff.

The agency, which serves 200 people, follows state-mandated shelter-in-place regimens. Even so, three staff members and five residents from a single Maryland group home have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes website. Three were still hospitalized and the rest are asymptomatic, said Donyale Hobson-Garcia, the agency’s chief programs officer.

Until last month, eight caring staffers came and went daily at each of 28 community living group homes. But when the order came to shelter in place, Jewish Foundation for Group Homes had to come up with a new system to comply.

Hobson-Garcia said it is crucial to keep residents healthy, because hospitals are not allowing patients to have visitors or advocates accompany them, In the new staffing arrangement, two or three employees live in each group home for 14 days, without leaving the premises.

“I can’t tell you how fortunate we are they have agreed to leave their homes and family,” Hobson-Garcia said.

Staff members who stay in the homes are compensated for their extra hours with incentive pay.

Some have agreed to work an additional 14-day shift. Still, Hobson-Garcia is concerned, noting, “I don’t know how long we can keep doing it, but we are going to try.”

Staff costs have increased by $50,000 a week or 39 percent over what costs were before the crisis, CEO David Ervin wrote in a newsletter.

Some residents with family nearby opted to go home more than a month ago, Hobson-Garcia said. They are receiving in-home care from staffers.

Meanwhile, some of the residents’ families, who haven’t been permitted to visit the group home since the end of March, are stopping by to wave at the windows and drop off supplies.

Residents are staying in touch with families through FaceTime, and the staff are posting photos of what residents are doing.

Still, many residents are concerned, and keep asking when they can go back to work, out to dinner or just leave the house. “Those questions are being asked continually,” Hobson-Garcia said, noting, “They may be limited in what they understand.”

The agency has spent $75,000 on personal protective equipment, including face masks and hand sanitizers, she said. The Committee of 100, a Chinese-American leadership group, donated 8,000 masks and 200 gowns. Local Planet Fitness clubs donated hand sanitizers. And some staff members have made masks.

The Sally and Robert Goldberg MOST program, which helps people with disabilities obtain and keep jobs, is not operating. That is a loss in revenue for the agency.

Suzanne Pollak is a Washington-area writer.

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