On July 2, Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel released the formal order that day programs may open on July 6. Re-opening services is not simply a matter of unlocking the doors, turning on the lights, and buying some personal protective equipment (PPE).
Some days before Memorial Day, representatives of the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) and ADDP (our field’s trade organization) had begun to meet. Leaders of some chapters and sponsor agencies participated on subcommittees to prepare for re-opening. The work through this collaboration was reflected in the guidance document released also on July 2 for EOHHS day services. The guidance covers multiple agencies in the state (e.g., DDS, DMH, MassHealth, Public Health) with a focus on re-opening requirements due to COVID-19.
As you read this update, agencies and local DDS offices are reviewing individual priorities to determine which participants will be invited back to day programs in the earlier phases. If you haven’t been contacted by your provider and wish to be on the “early” list, you should reach out this week to share that information.
The timing of the guidance release will result in most day programs opening later than July 6. On the other hand, some agencies already re-started group employment sites as businesses began to open in late June. The workers all use PPE and are reminded of health precautions at these worksites.
The 28-page guidance includes these introductory points, one of which is quoted directly from the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS):
- EOHHS knows requirements may cause some agencies to remain temporarily closed
- EOHHS is aware that the proposed requirements may present certain challenges for participants and families [The Arc: this goes both ways, agencies may have difficulty with requirements to serve certain individuals initially, AND some individuals/families may not want to return right away due to fear of infection]
- “The Administration is continuing to consider ways to support these critical providers as they prepare to reopen”
The re-opening period is a reminder that the impact of COVID-19 casts a shadow on all we do and think. The challenges faced by state officials and providers of services are immense. Advocating for equity, services, and funding is tough enough during “normal” times.
But adding COVID 19-to the mix makes all this even more complex. There is an extended feedback loop as we look to re-opening.
- How quickly can providers revise their day policies based on the new guidance?
- Can providers and the state train people fast enough to have re-opening take place in July?
- Are people who were laid off or furloughed going to return to day sites?
- How do individuals and families feel about returning? If a substantial portion doesn’t want to return, how does this affect the service system? For those who fear or don’t want to return (second thoughts about the service itself), will the Commonwealth offer an alternative or is it “take it or leave it”?
- How will those who need to be transported get to day and work programs?
- Funding of services is a major factor here, a key variable that often trumps all the others.
- How will the health data look in a few weeks – is the virus flat or growing?
For organizations, the next weeks and months will be critical adjustment periods: first, to the challenge of re-opening, and second, to plan for the future, where services may take a different shape. It’s critical for providers to communicate with their stakeholders during this period.
For individuals and families, it’s a time for re-evaluation. If there is a disconnect between your life and the services you receive, the next few months are a good time to learn more about options and possible change. As a stakeholder, we should work to surpass our own limitations in knowledge and personal advocacy.