Pandemic Management at SCARC

June 15, 2020

Inside a SCARC Group Home: Life During the COVID-19 Pandemic

As states begin to open up, SCARC continues its conservative approach to keeping residents safe throughout the pandemic. While the safety of our residents remains of paramount importance, the individuals we serve also need their other needs met. We’ve worked extremely hard to ensure each individual has access to technology, which they can use to connect with their loved ones and the outside world while remaining protected. We’ve created new activities, developed new routines, established new protocols, and more. And while our residents miss seeing their families and interacting with the community, we are very pleased to report that we haven’t had a single COVID-19 case at any of our 22 group homes!

Monitoring and Safety Precautions

Because we are restricting the number of outside individuals allowed in our homes, our group home managers have stepped up to assist in many of the physical checks our senior director typically handles. These include safety checks of the home and reviews of each individual’s care logs to ensure that all medical, personal care, and therapeutic needs are being met. Our senior director of community services, Leah Wilson, reviews all of this information to ensure every individual’s needs are comprehensive met every single day. Only SCARC facilities staff and/or vendors who are addressing critical operational issues, such as an appliance breakdown or other problem, are allowed to enter the facility. When outside items need to be procured, a SCARC facilities or administrative staff member brings it to the home and drops it off outside the door. Groceries and medications are delivered by an outside service as much as possible, but when necessary, a single designated staff member may shop for the group home with the appropriate safety gear in place.

Every staff member and outside vendor who enters the home must wear a cloth or surgical face mask and submit to a health screening, including a temperature check. In addition, each individual residing in the home receives a temperature check twice daily. Staff wear gloves when performing daily care tasks. Handwashing and disinfecting of all surfaces are performed constantly throughout the day. Staff members and individuals alike encouraged to change clothes and shower after returning from an outside errand or appointment. We have worked hard to obtain and distribute the necessary PPE for our group homes to ensure everyone has access to the appropriate protective equipment for daily use.

Medical Needs

Whenever possible, medical needs are met through telehealth appointments. When in-person appointments are necessary, vehicles are disinfected before and after transport and both staff and individual wear KN95 masks. We are also fully prepared with comprehensive protocols for responding to a COVID-19 case should it occur in one our programs. These strict protocols were developed in partnership with the Sussex County Department of Health and adhere to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance for group homes.

Recreation and Socialization

To ensure individuals can maintain important connections with their loved ones, they are encouraged to use tablets and laptops we have available for use. In fact, every program has an iPad for telehealth appointments and family visits. Plus, each group home has two to four laptops that were brought over from our day-habilitation programs, and some individuals have their own devices as well. The iPads which were provided through a generous grant from the NJ Developmental Disabilities Council, serendipitously arrived before the pandemic reached our area. They have since become an important lifeline between individuals and their families.

While we highly encourage our individuals to connect with their families online, we don’t currently allow family visits because of the difficulty in maintaining safe distancing during such visits. We also allow family members to drop off care packages, but we ask that they ensure they are not seen by our residents. This is because many of our residents simply don’t understand why they can’t hug their families or spend face-to-face time with them, so seeing family members outside our facilities but not being able to interact with them would be very distressing.

To keep our residents happy, healthy, and engaged, we have worked hard to develop structured routines that include both indoor and outdoor activities. In addition to adhering to regular daily schedules, individuals are encouraged to take walks around the neighborhood and spend time outdoors. With staff supervision, individuals may be allowed to visit parks and other outdoor areas where strict social distancing is possible. They are also able to attend events that enable them to remain inside SCARC vehicles, such as a fireworks show, outdoor drive-in movie, etc.

Digital Programming

For some time now, SCARC Foundation and SCARC Guardianship staff have been offering “Zoom at Noon” to our day-hab participants, residents, and members of the community, but we have recently expanded our online programming to include four hours of daily online activities! Dubbed “Day-Hab Goes Digital,” this program offers an exciting and engaging mix of workouts, crafts, nutritional guidance, a range of webinars, appearances from guest speakers, life-skills training, dancing and singing, book club, trivia and games, and much more! SCARC is covering the costs for all materials, speakers, and activities. (Supplies for crafts and other activities will be packaged for curbside pickup by families each week.) It’s been a huge hit thus far and we look forward to continuing to expand and build upon our efforts in response to the feedback we receive from individuals and their families.

SCARC Champions

We are grateful to the individuals we serve as well as their families for their support and cooperation throughout the pandemic. Most importantly, we are unendingly grateful to our group home staff, who, with the support our administrative and facilities staff, have worked tirelessly and bravely for many weeks to ensure the safety and well-being of our residents. You are champions and we are so very thankful for you and proud of you!

While we have been in close touch with families of the individuals we serve throughout the pandemic, we encourage anyone who has questions about how SCARC’s COVID-19 response to contact Richard Lecher, President and CEO of SCARC, at [email protected] or 973.383.7442.