COVID-19 threat means fewer services for developmentally disabled
Nonprofits in New Jersey tasked with improving the lives of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities have already done away with certain crucial services in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
And as they get a better idea as time goes on, of just how much this public health emergency will impact their operations, many clients they serve aren't getting the physical, cognitive, speech and other services they've grown accustom to receiving on a routine basis.
"Most of these folks learn through repetition and experience, and they gain confidence. All of that is ceased," said Brian Fitzgerald, president and CEO of Easterseals New Jersey.
Easterseals, the state's largest provider of disability services, stopped running its day habilitation program and two work centers, adhering to rules meant to help stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.
"We're looking at where we can deliver services through telephonic means," Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald said the month of April will give the nonprofit a better sense of the true impact of the emergency — and for how long the organization can keep paying the staff that are still working. About 265 individuals were furloughed and there are plans to provide them health benefits through May, he said. When operations can resume, it's not absolute that all services will return, he said.
While the public health threat has ended day programs for all chapters of The Arc of New Jersey, residential programs must go on — the group homes need to be staffed 24/7, and the residents must stay in, around the clock.
"They're missing visitors, they're missing family, they're not getting the benefits of their daily program," said Tom Baffuto, executive director of The Arc of New Jersey, which has 20 chapters in the Garden State.
Baffuto said the organization's biggest challenge is obtaining personal protective equipment for staff who are directly caring for residents. The Arc would also like to see priority COVID-19 testing for the people they serve.
"We are recognizing many heroes in the healthcare industry. I would say our direct support professionals are heroes also," he said. "They're leaving their families and going in and providing incredible services. In my book, that's a hero."
The Arc of New Jersey, though, is facing staff shortages, he said — mainly due to the fact that many employees have children at home because schools are closed.