Behind The Mask
Quick, Coordinated Action Kept the (Virtual) Doors Open
As challenging as the COVID-19 quarantine has been for retail and other transactional businesses, it has been especially difficult for medical and human services organizations. For those enterprises whose main focus is working closely with people with disabilities, COVID has posed a painful, difficult reckoning. For many human services organizations, including LSI, it seemed near to impossible to suspend that work and close down—however temporarily—in response to the pandemic.
In early March of 2020, when COVID hit, LSI faced multi-layered challenges to continue serving Vermont and New Hampshire people and communities that had come to rely on its dedicated service.
Here, in their own words, a pair of LSI staff professionals describe their experiences—how they dealt with the challenge of the pandemic while still maintaining their support for the people they serve. Now, as LSI has begun the cautious, painstaking path to reopen and re-establish some “new- normal” operations, they reflect on the past year in what we might call a “case study” of COVID-related planning and response.
Katie White – Director of Quality Assurance
“We began responding to the pandemic very quickly, in March of 2020, and it was around that time that we had a virtual staff meeting late one Sunday evening where we agreed to shut everything down to ensure the safety of the people we support, our staff and our contractors in the community.
“True, the ‘face-to-face’ interaction with one another on staff and the people we serve had to stop, but, importantly, we never stopped working. Thanks to the vision and quick action of some of our staff, we were able to get set up immediately on virtual meeting software and other tools, and that helped us remain in constant contact with each other and with our people. That new virtual network includes our home providers who work with us to offer residential services to our people, as well as contracted therapists providing online support as we all adjust.
“From day one, it was critical for us to keep everyone up-to-date with everything that was happening, and why it was happening. In the weeks and months following the shutdown, we got better at working with these restrictions, and our service to our people continued to grow and improve.”
Jarrod James – Director of Employment Services
“Six of the people that we serve, individuals we helped place in jobs in various stores and companies out in the community, worked non-stop throughout the pandemic. I refer to them as being in the ‘front lines’ of this thing—some of them in grocery stores, others in warehouse environments. I’m very proud of them for having had that courage to continue, because, with some of these folks, the conversations we had to have with them about it were hard. There were a lot of unknowns—then as now. Our employment team had to support the people we serve to learn the necessary precautions required by each employer they work for.
“Beginning the last week of May in 2020, we began reopening employment supports for non-essential employees. This meant for every person we serve reentering the workforce, there had to be a lot of retraining with the employers’ new COVID-19 exposure plans, along with our own—LSI’s—expectations around exposure. So we were deep into the process of retraining our staff and ourselves to slowly reintroduce job coaches to the individuals we help. We’re very happy to report that, in those cases, the process worked well, helping to relieve the burden on the employers who’ve hired people served by LSI’s employment program, because they were able to rely on a greater means of production and fulfillment with our people getting back to work. We had our challenges—as everyone had—but I’m very gratified with how well it went—the growth in our understanding and the camaraderie this situation it created . . . it’s been good to see.”