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April 14, 2020 Message

From Chrissy Shawver, Chief Executive Officer

It is with incredible sadness that I share this news—an adult we support has died from COVID-19.  This person demonstrated no signs of the virus, but because his support staff knew him well, they realized he seemed lethargic even though he was unable to articulate any problems.  The individual was transported to the hospital Friday morning, ventilated Friday evening, and passed away Saturday.  We are heartbroken for his family, his roommates, and the staff who supported him. 

Since early March, The Arc Montgomery County has worked diligently to implement COVID-19 precautions as shared by the CDC, Maryland Developmental Disabilities Administration, and other health officials.  We continue to deep-clean and sanitize our residences, and visitors have not been allowed into the homes for some time.  Staff were told to monitor themselves and the people supported for any symptoms of COVID-19 or other illnesses, and to provide daily reports of everyone’s condition.  

People living in our homes were sheltering in place and given instructions on hand washing and other preventive measures.  Staff were provided with regular instructions about how to keep themselves and the people they support safe.  In addition, frequent consultations were made with the Montgomery County Department of Health about the best ways to prevent an outbreak.

Neither the individual who died nor the staff who supported him demonstrated outward signs of the virus—no cough, no temperature, etc.  We have requested a Response Team from the state government be assigned, hoping to curb additional exposures and to provide assistance in tracing the outbreak.  We are also deep-cleaning any impacted homes a second time.  

Although nearly $50,000 in orders were placed weeks ago, we have not been able to secure sufficient quantities of PPE, including hand sanitizer, gloves and masks.  Available supplies were distributed to the homes, and all possible avenues for securing additional PPE have been pursued.  In recent days, some additional PPE has been provided by DDA, but there remains a large shortfall from what is actually needed to ensure the safety of every person supported and every staff member.

Effective this past weekend, additional measures to reduce the number of exposures are being implemented, for the safety of the people we support and our employees.  

  1. Implementing longer shifts for staff working in our homes, so we have fewer staff coming and going.
  2. Limiting staff working in the homes to only one home, to avoid potential cross-exposure.
  3. Limiting movement of people receiving Personal Supports—only absolutely necessary trips outside their homes while services are being delivered by our staff.
  4. Completely restricting movement of people supported in our homes—no car rides, no bank visits, etc.  They must remain in the home except for short walks in their own yard or neighborhood.  The only exceptions are for the very few people who are still working.
  5. Restricting movement of staff working in our homes (including supervisors)—no grocery runs, no supply pickups, no medication pickups, etc.  All supplies will be delivered to the homes by non-DSP staff to reduce the risk of exposure.  Staff on duty are to stay in the home at all times, except for short walks with people supported in the yard or neighborhood.

This tragic situation has amplified the critical shortage of Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) available to support people with disabilities in the community.  We are so incredibly appreciative of all that our DSPs do and of how they are putting their own lives on the line!  We are also very appreciative of our supervisors, many of whom have stepped up to work shifts and otherwise taken on additional duties.  Our team’s dedication to the people they support is inspiring!  We continue to advocate with local, state and federal agencies on their behalf for higher wages and more PPE—and the respect they deserve.  

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